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Employees of American Airlines Bitter Over Labor Negotiations - 2003-04-17

Employees of American Airlines are voicing bitterness one day after flight attendants narrowly approved deep wage and benefits concessions to save the troubled U.S. carrier from bankruptcy.

Like flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics, Luis Ayala, a ground worker for American Airlines at Miami International Airport, will have to swallow pay cuts averaging more than 20 percent as part of a $1.8 billion package of labor-cost reductions.

Mr. Ayala says tough times lie ahead for the airline's employees and their families. "We are used to a style of living. Now we really have to cut it back - not just for us, but for our families," he said.

The flight attendants' union was the last to approve the deal late Wednesday, one day after an initial vote turned it down.

American Airlines' spokesman Bruce Hicks tells VOA that the concessions were the lesser of two evils.

"Our only other alternative was to file for bankruptcy, and had we not gotten the final ratification from the flight attendant union membership, American Airlines would be in bankruptcy today," he said. "Had we been forced into bankruptcy, the impact would have been far greater - instead of $1.8 billion in employee cost reductions, we would have needed another half a billion dollars: a total of $2.3 billion."

American Airlines has lost a staggering $5.3 billion during the past two years, and it is not alone. Steep losses recently forced two other U.S. carriers into bankruptcy.

The spokesman says many factors are to blame for the poor state of the industry as a whole.

"I do not think the business climate for the airlines has ever been worse than it is now," said Mr. Hicks. "Fuel prices have been high for too long; business travel traffic is down substantially from what it used to be; the impact of the war in Iraq and the threats of terrorism, all those things have combined to create the worst passenger traffic market ever in the history of the airlines."

At Miami International Airport, American Airlines flight attendant Glenis Martinez says she hopes the concessions approved by the unions will make the carrier profitable and save jobs in the long run. But she admits she has her doubts.

"We do not even know if it [American Airlines] is going to go into bankruptcy, anyway. What we did does not assure that there will be no bankruptcy," she said.

Indeed, American Airlines officials admit that a bankruptcy filing could still loom in the future. Chief Executive Officer Don Carty says, in his words, American Airlines is "not out of the woods yet."