Local News

Strike Would Be Costly - For Everyone

Posted February 9, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— There's only about a week left until the federally mandated "cooling off" period ends and agreement must be reached, or, American Airlines pilots say, they will go out on strike. And any strike will affect all of American's employees nationwide and internationally, as well as prospective passengers holding tickets.

The pilots have worked for more than two years without a contract. Pay is a key issue in the talks, but so is who can fly small jets. A tentative agreement, rejected last month, would have allowed a limited number of 50-passenger regional jets to be flown by commuter airline pilots, who are represented by a different union.

Both sides say if agreement is not reached, a 60-day walkout could occur and it would cost the company $1 billion a month.

Unestimated so far is how much it would cost American's other employees, such as Michelle Walter, who has been planning her wedding. She says the possibility of a strike has put many of her ideas on hold, until things are resolved.

Local offices of American have given employees a tentative plan of how and when they would be laid off. Making matters worse, North Carolina law does not allow workers to collect unemployment benefits if they are laid off as a result of a labor dispute. This means many people may find it very difficult to make ends meet, and they may have to find other jobs.

American's ticketholders, too, would be directly affected. Both leisure and business travel would need to be rescheduled. At RDU International Airport, American operates 17 flights a day. Passengers would have to have tickets rewritten for other airlines, on a space available basis, or get a refund from American.

American's pilots say that smaller carriers pose a threat. They are demanding that the carrier drop all plans to allow its American Eagle unit to fly regional jets. Airline Pilots Association members say they thought American would try to turn more of its short-haul routes over to American Eagle, thereby threatening their jobs.

The pilots say if they don't have a new deal, they are ready to strike.