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Flight attendants, American start arbitration process

American Airlines and its flight attendants union agree on everything in a proposed contract except for three big things, arbitrators were told Wednesday.

On the first day of arbitration hearings in Washington, D.C., both sides agreed that a new joint contract should be valued at $112 million more annually than the current legacy contracts at American and US Airways, according to a filing made by the parties. They also agreed to include almost all of the language, with the exception of wage rates, from the tentative agreement that flight attendants narrowly rejected in November.

However, the union wants to add three items to the joint contract: “me-too” clauses for profit-sharing and health insurance and a Dec. 2 effective date for wages.

Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said she believes it wouldn’t be fair if other employee work groups at American successfully negotiate profit-sharing plans into new contracts and flight attendants don’t receive the same benefit. The APFA represents the 24,000 flight attendants who work at American and US Airways.

“I imagine the other work groups will be demanding profit-sharing in their contracts,” Glading said during the hearing, according to union tweets. “Oil is lower than anyone imagined, which makes profit-sharing even more attractive.”

Profit-sharing has become an issue for several union groups at American. Union leaders negotiated away profit-sharing plans in exchange for wage increases prior to American’s merger with US Airways. Some flight attendants wanted to see it added back into the proposed joint contract now that the company is earning hundreds of millions of dollars, but it wasn’t. The proposed contract, valued at $193 million more annually than the legacy contracts, failed by 16 votes out of more than 16,000 cast.

The three issues that American and the union want the arbitration panel to decide are:

The company is expected to present its case to the panel on Thursday.

“We continue to work through the process to reach joint labor contracts for all of our work groups, including our flight attendants who will realize significant wage increases when the arbitration is complete,” said American spokesman Paul Flaningan.

The arbitration panel is expected to issue a binding decision early next year.

Also Wednesday, a few dozen flight attendants picketed outside of American’s headquarters in Fort Worth, saying the company should negotiate with flight attendants instead of forcing the union into binding arbitration.

American is currently in contract talks with its pilots union, with the Allied Pilots Association board expected to discuss a possible tentative agreement next week. The company has yet to reach joint contracts with any of its work groups since closing its merger with US Airways last December.