American Airlines Averts Attendant Strike

From Associated Press

Negotiators for American Airlines and its flight attendants agreed on a tentative contract Saturday, just hours before President Bush planned to step in and block a threatened walkout.

Neither the airline nor the Assn. of Professional Flight Attendants offered any details about the settlement.

Union spokeswoman Lori Bassani said details will be released after the final agreement is worked out, which is expected to take 10 days.

The agreement must be approved by the union's executive board and its 23,000 members. Bassani said final ratification won't happen until later this summer.

The airline and its attendants spent the last three days in Washington with federal mediators in an effort to resolve their 2 1/2-year-old contract dispute. Flight attendants rejected a tentative agreement in 1999.

"We're pleased that both sides have reached an agreement in principle," Bassani said. "It has been a long, arduous 2 1/2 years."

Union members voted to strike in February and were poised to walk out today.

However, Bush said last week that he would invoke his powers under federal labor law and name a federal board to recommend a proposed settlement. That would have prevented the union from striking for 60 days.

The National Mediation Board, which oversaw the final negotiations, issued a statement saying the two sides had agreed to maintain the status quo while the tentative agreement is considered by the union membership.

Negotiators knew they would not face a strike even if they had failed to reach an agreement.

Bush has vowed to prevent airline strikes and stepped in to keep Northwest Airlines mechanics at work in March.

The administration threatened to do the same in a dispute between Delta Air Lines and its pilots, but an agreement was reached in May.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta praised the agreement.

"The president and I are grateful that the flight attendant and American Airlines negotiators were able to hang in there and produce a settlement," Mineta said.

"There's never a good time for an airline strike, but the summer travel season must be one of the worst times," he said. "Avoiding further disruption to our national transportation system will remain among our top priorities."

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