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Agreement Averts Strike at Second Largest US Airline

A strike against the United States' second-largest airline appears to have been averted. United Airlines and its machinists' union have announced a tentative contract agreement, roughly 36 hours before the union was set to go on strike.

The tentative agreement came on the fourth day of renewed negotiations between Chicago-based United and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The union represents 1,300 mechanics and airliner cleaners at United.

"The negotiating committee has unanimously recommended a "yes" vote on this agreement," said Joe Tiberi, IAM spokesman in Washington. "Our members will soon have the full details of it. A March 5 voting date has been set. In order to allow that, by mutual agreement United and the machinists union have agreed to extend the strike deadline to March 7, 2002."

Last Tuesday, the union rejected a contract proposal recommended by an emergency panel appointed by President Bush. Union workers were set to walk off the job late this Tuesday night. Union officials had already begun telling members to take their tools home with them following their last shift before the strike deadline.

A statement released by United calls the tentative deal a critical milestone in developing a recovery plan that meets the needs of passengers, preserves jobs, and puts the company on the road to financial stability.

Union spokesman Joe Tiberi says the agreement has been a long time coming. "It has been 27 months," said union spokesman Tiberi. "This agreement will make our members the highest-paid in the industry, which was the goal set out by the membership when negotiations began 27 months ago."

Neither side is releasing details of the tentative agreement, but it is reportedly similar to the deal proposed by the presidential emergency board. Union workers would receive raises as high as 37 percent. The new deal reportedly also requires a union vote before mechanics go along with wage concessions agreed to by United's other unions.

United lost more than $2-billion last year and might ask its workers for wage or benefit concessions this year. United says its bookings have declined in recent days, as passengers feared being stranded far from home if a strike had grounded the airline.