- Dec 2, 2001
Say it is not so!!!
United Airlines Mechanics Authorize Strike
December 14, 2001 5:11 pm EST
By David Bailey
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Mechanics at United Airlines have voted to authorize a strike in the first major labor relations test for the struggling airline industry since the Sept. 11 attacks, though White House intervention could delay a walkout for two months.
Mechanics represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 141M, who say they have worked without a pay raise since 1994, could strike as early as next Friday, when a 30-day cooling-off period ends.
However, the White House reiterated on Friday that it might intervene to delay a strike by the mechanics for 60 days on grounds that a walkout would damage the economy, meaning any action would not take place before mid-February.
"The president has made it clear that given the fragility of the airline industry and the importance of the American people's right to travel, he would look very unkindly on any action that would interfere with those rights," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
The chief negotiator for the mechanics, Scotty Ford, said the authorization to strike sends a clear message.
"Your vote has sent a very loud and important message, all the way to the White House," Ford said in a statement on a union Web site. "You have just given us a very powerful tool that we intend to use."
United spokesman Joe Hopkins said the air carrier does not expect any disruption to customers as a result of the vote.
VOTE NEAR UNANIMOUS
The 15,000 United mechanics voted 99 percent in favor of striking the nation's second-largest airline, a unit of UAL Corp. Balloting was Thursday, and the results were released on Friday.
Shares of UAL Corp. fell 49 cents, or 3.2 percent, to close at $14.72 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. Analysts said some airline stocks were down on Friday due to rising oil prices.
United and other air carriers continue to lose millions of dollars a day following the September attacks that killed nearly 3,300 people. Air traffic has not recovered fully since four hijacked airliners, including two from United, were crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
"United is uniquely vulnerable in that as an industry leader it should not be having the problems it is having," said Richard Aboulafia, analyst at Virginia-based consultancy Teal Group. "It just goes to show that even in the worst of times, the industry's adversarial problems remain very difficult to get past, almost insurmountable."
Ray Neidl, an airline analyst at ABN Amro, said that a mechanics' strike would likely shut down United, hurt ticket sales and be generally devastating for the airline. But he added that a strike is not necessarily imminent.
The machinists and United have negotiated for two years to no avail, and there are no talks scheduled at present. The sides were thought to be near agreement before the Sept. 11 attacks, but progress has stalled as United vies to survive after losing a record $1.16 billion in the third quarter.
After mechanics rejected an arbitration offer in November, the National Mediation Board recommended that President Bush create a special Presidential Emergency Board to address the dispute. Bush indicated through his spokesman that he will create a board to make recommendations.
"Based on a recommendation from the National Mediation Board and comments from the White House, we expect there will be a Presidential Emergency Board," Hopkins said.
United gave pilots a huge pay raise last year and now wants to avoid another costly contract, analysts have said.
John Creighton, UAL's new chief executive, has opened financial books to the unions and told employees repeatedly that everything is on the table as the airline tries to restore profitability, including concessions from the unions.
Former CEO James Goodwin was ousted in late October, after unions complained bitterly about a letter he sent to employees warning the airline could perish next year.