American Airlines Workers Protest Job, Pay Cuts

American Airlines job cutsBy David Koenig

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Flight attendants and ground workers marched in picket lines Tuesday to protest American Airlines' plans to outsource jobs and cut pay and benefits under a bankruptcy reorganization.

Several of the protesters acknowledged having little hope of changing the company's course. Some said that they expect to be laid off soon.

There appeared to be 200 to 250 protesters at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. A few passengers disembarked from cars and rolled their bags into the international terminal while avoiding contact with the pickets.

The event was a reminder of the long and bitter divide between labor and management at American, the nation's third-largest airline. There may also be differences - at least in style - among the workers themselves. The pilots' union skipped the protest, preferring to take a less confrontational approach.

American and its parent, AMR Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection on Nov. 29 after running up billions of dollars in losses over the past decade. Two weeks ago, AMR laid out a plan to cut 13,000 jobs, kill its pension plans, reduce benefits and make other changes such as longer hours for some of its 88,000 employees.

Under bankruptcy law, the company can try to negotiate new labor contracts with unions. If that fails, it can ask the bankruptcy judge to impose the company's plan.

"I don't think this is going to do anything to change management's opinion as far as our (contract negotiations), but it's something we can do to show support for each other," said Angelica Abrams, a Dallas-based flight attendant with 30 years at American.

Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, also predicted that the company is determined to walk away from previous labor contracts. "We're here today to show we're not going to back down without a fight," she said.

American said the event didn't disrupt passengers at DFW, one of its five major U.S. hub airports.

Company spokesman Bruce Hicks said that restructuring American "is a difficult but necessary process." He said every employee group, including management, would be affected.

"Our goal is to exit as a growing, profitable company that preserves tens of thousands of jobs," Hicks said.

On the picket lines, there was much anger - and a few rhymed chants - aimed at new CEO Thomas Horton and other senior executives, who in past years received stock-based bonuses while front-line employees lived under terms of pay cuts approved in 2003, when the company barely avoided bankruptcy.

"They want to outsource our jobs overseas," said Tulsa, Okla.-based maintenance worker Greg Greene. "They need to outsource their jobs. You could bring in bright young people who can manage this company for a lot less."

While maintenance workers, who are represented by the Transport Workers Union, and flight attendants took part in the protest, the Allied Pilots Association did not. The unions denied any rift.

"We didn't see any merit in it at this point," pilots' union spokesman Tom Hoban said of the marching. "We're engaged in good-faith bargaining, and we hope management will reciprocate."

Hoban noted that the pilots' union had taken a confrontational approach before - once buying billboards to criticize the company - and it didn't result in a new contract then.

"We're going to take the high road and see if it pays off," he said.

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