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Union reportedly weighing 18-month deal with American

The union representing American Airlines mechanics and other ground workers is mulling a short-term contract agreement with the airline, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Fort Worth-based American has made a proposal to the union for an 18-month deal, said one source with knowledge of the negotiations. The source asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the proposal.

That’s shorter than most airline contracts, which typically last three to four years.

Gerard Arpey, American’s chief executive, met personally with union officials twice this month, on May 1 and Monday. During the first meeting, which lasted for two hours, Arpey told officials he “is interested in continuing this negotiation process in an attempt to reach a settlement,” said Dennis Burchette, the union’s American system coordinator, in a letter to union members.

On Monday, Arpey briefed union negotiators “on the current economic situation and its impact on American’s operations and business,” said airline spokeswoman Tami McLallen.

American offered the union a contract extension last year, but labor officials rejected that proposal. However, the airline industry has since gone into a tailspin amid crushing fuel prices. Most analysts are predicting that American will post heavy losses this year.

Transport Workers Union officials are reviewing the latest proposal and haven’t made any decisions, sources said. Any contract would have to be ratified in a vote by union members.

American is in contract talks with all three of its employee groups. Negotiations with pilots have been confrontational and, so far, little progress has been made. Those talks were recently taken over by a mediator from the National Mediation Board.

Flight attendants will officially begin negotiations next month, and union leaders have said they will push for significant improvements to wages and benefits.

Transport Workers Union leaders have generally had a more positive relationship with airline management in recent years. Labor leaders and managers have worked together to cut costs and bring in outside business at American’s maintenance bases, a move that has protected union jobs as well as helped the company’s bottom line.

“American remains committed to working with the TWU and our other unions to reach contracts that address key areas of interest and help American compete and succeed in this challenging environment,” McLallen said.

Shares of AMR Corp., American’s parent (ticker: AMR), rose 37 cents, 4.1 percent, to $9.48 Thursday.