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AA, flight attendants, talking about short-term contract

American Airlines will try to hammer out a short-term contract with its flight attendants over the next three weeks, a deal that could give attendants some financial relief while providing the airline with a rare labor agreement.

Officials with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said they have agreed to sit down to negotiate a short-term deal in the hopes of quickly providing additional money for employees. Otherwise, they warned, talks could drag on for years before a new contract is inked.

“We cannot afford the time it will take to negotiate all the improvements that must ultimately be made to our contract,” said Laura Glading, the union’s president, in a message to members. “Protracted bargaining without any resolution merely prolongs the suffering of our members.”

Last month, American proposed a two-year contract, which included bonus money but no raises, to ground workers represented by the Transport Workers Union. That deal was rejected by union officials.

But Glading said that proposal “does demonstrate that the company is willing to negotiate a short-term agreement.”

American has been in contract talks with pilots for more than 18 months, but little progress has been made. Those talks were recently taken over by a mediator from the National Mediation Board.

Leaders with all three unions say they want improvements in wages and benefits, particularly given the steep concessions that union members approved in 2003. But the airline is desperate to rein in costs, particularly in recent months with the sharp run-up in fuel prices.

“American is committed to reaching an agreement and working collaboratively with the APFA to find ways to address the needs of our flight attendants while ensuring the company is stronger and better positioned for the long term,” said Tami McLallen, American spokeswoman.

Glading warned that there are no guarantees that a suitable deal can be reached.

“While success may be unlikely, if we do not at least make the effort, failure is certain,” she said.