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British Airways Crew Strike Will Cost Airline Millions

  • Tom Rivers

A three-day strike by over 11,000 British Airways cabin crew began Saturday in the aftermath of failed talks between the company's management and the union. Many flights are being canceled and it will cost the airline millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Relations are sour at British Airways after management and the main union representing cabin crew members failed to agree on a new labor deal. The airline is suffering from heavy losses and is looking to trim back operating costs. The union says it has gone more than halfway to bring about change and modernize practices at the airline.

In an unusual move Saturday, British Airways chief executive officer, Willie Walsh released an apology to passengers on the internet. "I am deeply sorry. It is a terrible day today for British Airways. I am really disappointed that we have not been able to reach agreement," he said.

But the sincerity of that apology is being questioned by members of the Unite union. Their chief, Tony Woodley says BA management is offering them a deal that frankly everybody would refuse. "What British Airways has done is to table an offer that is worse than the offer that they unilaterally agreed with us last week. That makes it absolutely impossible for us to be able to go back to our members and re-ballot them under these circumstances. I am extremely disappointed," he said.

Among the ranks on the picket line near Heathrow, there is talk of management adopting a union-busting posture. Woodley says BA wants it all their way. "I think it is a classic case of Mr. Walsh, unfortunately being one of the hawks, was looking for a war with our members as opposed to a negotiated settlement," he said.

At issue, British Airways is looking for a pay freeze in 2010, a switch to part-time work for three-thousand staff and a reduction in cabin crew sizes from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights.

Meanwhile, striking cabin crew members near Heathrow are standing by their position despite British Airways training some replacements from within BA staff to temporarily take over some of their duties. "We are just supporting each other, basically. The atmosphere is very tense at the moment and we just want to support each other during this time.//Nobody wants a strike at the end of the day, it is not good for anybody but we voted 'yes.' We have got to stand by our vote and we have got to support our union," said one striker.

More than 1,000 flights have been cancelled by the airline.

Other aviation industry unions around the world including those in the U.S., Australia, Germany and Spain are watching developments and are looking at options to aid their colleagues in Britain.