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San Diego Jobs Slashed as USAir Lays Off 3,585

TIMES STAFF WRITER

USAir will respond to huge losses by laying off 3,585 employees, or 7% of its payroll, in coming months, closing flight crew bases in San Diego and three other cities, and eliminating an aircraft maintenance facility in Los Angeles.

USAir’s austerity program includes the elimination of a San Diego flight crew base that is home to 120 pilots and 274 flight attendants. Most of the local employees were with Pacific Southwest Airlines when USAir acquired San Diego-based PSA in 1986.

The airline won’t know how many of its 6,000 California employees will lose jobs for several months, USAir spokesman Larry Pickett said Monday. Many San Diego-based employees, for example, are expected to move elsewhere in the company to keep their jobs.

The Arlington, Va.-based airline recently reported a 1990 loss of $454 million on $6.6 billion in revenue. It hopes to cut costs by eliminating unprofitable routes, closing facilities and furloughing about 7% its 49,000 employees.

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USAir previously announced that it was reducing daily departures from California airports by 97 to 192 on May 2. San Diego departures will be reduced from 32 to 21. Nationwide, USAir’s daily departures will be reduced May 2 from 2,894 to to 2,626.

In line with the flight cuts, in May USAir will furlough 660 pilots, 540 flight attendants, 505 maintenance and utility employees, 1,300 customer service agents, 305 reservations agents and 275 managers and staff members. The layoffs are in addition to 3,600 furloughs that occurred last August.

The service cuts and furloughs represent a dramatic retrenchment for USAir, which has been hit hard by bruising West Coast fare wars and high fuel costs since acquiring PSA and Piedmont airlines during the late 1980s.

USAir President Seth E. Schofield, in a prepared statement, linked the cutbacks to the recession, slumping traffic and “sharply higher operating costs, particularly in the price of jet fuel.”

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The furloughs announced Monday will hit hardest in San Diego; Miami; Greensboro, N.C., and Syracuse, N.Y., where USAir is closing four of its 12 flight crew bases.

“It comes as a shock to everyone,” said Carol Austin, president of the USAir branch of the Assn. of Flight Attendants, which represents about 9,400 USAir employees. “It will be devastating to the 274 flight attendants and their families” in San Diego, said Austin, a San Diego resident and a former PSA flight attendant.

The furloughs will create a “domino effect” throughout USAir’s system as senior airline employees in San Diego seek transfers to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Similar transfers will occur as USAir closes its flight bases in Miami, Greensboro and Syracuse, Austin said.

Some of USAir’s 675 Los Angeles-based flight attendants will be forced to seek transfers as they are “bumped” by senior personnel from San Diego, said Dave Alexander, a former PSA flight attendant who now is president of the flight attendants’ Los Angeles-based local. Similarly, the furloughs could force USAir employees in San Francisco to seek transfers back East.

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Besides eliminating the four flight crew bases, USAir will close a maintenance plant in Utica, N. Y., and a reservation office at Reston, Va. It also will transfer a Los Angeles-based Boeing 737 inspection operation to a hangar at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field.

USAir now uses the hangar to service its fleet of British Aerospace 146 airliners. USAir is grounding those airliners as part of its restructuring, but Pickett was unable to say how many jobs will be lost or gained at the hangar after the switch.

USAir employees, who learned of the planned furloughs early Monday, are already describing the day as “Black Monday,” said Capt. John Feldvary, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Assn., which represents 6,200 USAir pilots.

“It looks as if we’ll be going down to about 5,600 pilots,” said Feldvary, a relatively new pilot with USAir who probably will return to a co-pilot’s seat. Senior USAir pilots furloughed in California “would most likely have to head east, maybe to Pittsburgh, Boston or Charlotte,” Feldvary said.

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Feldvary said the furloughs are likely to become an industry-wide problem as other airlines try to cope with higher costs and flagging passenger totals. “We’re not alone, unfortunately,” Feldvary said. “USAir usually announces first on these things, and the other airlines slowly come out with some kind of layoffs.”

USAir earlier had indicated that about 500 jobs would be trimmed in California because of the company’s in-state retrenchment. The company declined comment Monday on where jobs would be lost, but observers said that as many as 350 USAir employees would no longer be needed at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport on May 2, when USAir pulls out of that market.

The cutbacks in California were a jolt to former PSA employees who joined USAir when the two companies’ operations were merged in 1988. “This is not the way we thought it would be” after the airline was acquired by USAir, said Alexander, who still lives in San Diego.

“I live in San Diego, I was born here,” Austin said. “I’ve been a flight attendant for 26 years and I’ve done all my flying out of San Diego.” Austin said moving from San Diego would be “impossible” because her husband works as an architect here.

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“That’s the kind of impact this is having on every flight attendant” in the four locations that are being closed down, Austin said.

Austin said her union will soon begin negotiations with USAir aimed at “cushioning the impact of this on the 540 flight attendants being furloughed.” The union wants USAir to consider early retirement programs and an extended leave of absence program.

Flight attendants had anticipated the San Diego base closing following USAir 1987 purchase of Piedmont. “It’s been on the horizon,” Austin said. “But it still comes as a shock.”

Internal speculation had suggested that USAir would close a crew base in San Diego or San Francisco, Austin said. But employees believed that they would easily be able to find jobs with USAir because the airline intended to become a major presence in the “California corridor” between San Diego and San Francisco.

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Instead, USAir in late January said it was eliminating service at eight West Coast locations--Bellingham, Wash.; Portland, Burbank, Oakland, Ontario, Orange County, Palm Springs and San Jose.


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