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American Airlines seeks trainees in event of flight attendants strike

American Airlines is preparing for a flight attendants strike, even though federal mediators have not released the union from negotiations.

On Monday, the Fort Worth-based carrier sent a note to managers in Dallas-Fort Worth seeking about 4,000 volunteers to complete flight attendant training to help staff flights in case the Association of Professional Flight Attendants goes on strike.

"Our current plan is to utilize resources in the D-FW area to lessen the drain on resources in the operation," reads the note, which laid out criteria for volunteers and described a 17-day training program. "While we hope it isn't necessary to staff flights with these volunteers, we feel it's imperative to be ready should a job action occur to ensure the least impact to our customers and the operation." American had previously asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to create a temporary flight attendant training program.

Last week, American and the union, which represents 18,000 flight attendants at the carrier, wrapped up a session of mediated talks without reaching an agreement. In its latest proposal, American offered the flight attendants a five-year contract with a 3 percent signing bonus and 2 percent structural wage increases each year of the contract except for the last year, which has a 1.5 percent structural wage increase. In return for increased wages, American wants to increase the number of hours a flight attendant works each month, from the current schedule of 77 credited hours to 89 hours in the second year of the contract, with some flight attendants on certain routes flying up to 92 hours a month.

"Despite some progress in contract talks last week, we believe negotiations have reached an impasse," union President Laura Glading said. "The company continued to put forth concessionary proposals in the form of unacceptable compensation, benefits, and work rules."

Under the Railway Labor Act, airline unions must ask the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse in contract talks. If it does, that starts a 30-day cooling off period, after which a union can strike or a company can lock out the workers.

American spokeswoman Missy Latham said the company is only planning and has not yet implemented its contingency plans. "This effort is in response to APFA's announcement of the results of their strike authorization ballot, their desire to be released from mediation, and takes into account the lead time necessary for development and completion of the company's training program," she said.

Not everyone is convinced that federal mediators will release the union from talks.

CRT Capital Group analyst Michael Derchin said that news media are overreacting to union rhetoric, and that a strike is many months away.

"According to our sources, before releasing the flight attendants to strike, the National Mediation Board wants to see if American Airlines can get agreements from its four Transport Workers Union groups and have the rank and file ratify the tentative agreements reached at three TWU groups," Derchin wrote in a research note. "If the TWU rank and file reject the tentative agreements, according to my sources the NMB is likely to release the TWU first, then after those contracts are resolved, release the flight attendants."

Earlier this month, three Transport Workers bargaining groups, including mechanics, reached tentative agreements with American.

Those pacts include signing bonuses and structural wage increases.

On Tuesday, the union's fourth bargaining group, fleet services, which includes baggage handlers, started another negotiation session with the company in Washington, D.C.

ANDREA AHLES, 817-390-7631

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