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United Airlines Flight Attendants Are Refusing To Sign Concessionary Contract

Date: January 21, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC — Just as the concessionary contract agreed to by United Airlines management last spring finally arrived in the offices of the carrier’s flight attendant union, United management announced its intent to illegally cut retiree health benefits and raise retiree out of pocket costs, raising legal issues significant enough to jeopardize the signing of the concessionary agreement by union President Patricia Friend.

“I am not taking any action, including signing the contract, that could be perceived as affirming the validity of the illegal cuts United wants to make,” said Friend, President of the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, AFL-CIO. “The court of public opinion will decide if United is morally and ethically bankrupt. We are going to fight in bankruptcy court and through every other legal means possible to make sure United lives up to the contract it agreed to so these devastating cuts don’t happen.”

Attorneys for the flight attendants say United management’s deceitful actions call into question the product and validity of the concessionary negotiations. AFA is considering a number of legal actions in addition to not signing the contract, including: asking the bankruptcy court to set aside the 1113 relief (the concessionary contract approved by the court last May), a bad faith bargaining suit, a motion to compel United to allow people to return to work who retired after United agreed to limit the health care costs of retirees, and asking the bankruptcy court to appoint an examiner to investigate management’s duplicitous actions.

AFA representatives and management have worked together to finalize contract language and get the contract printed since the deal was agreed to last May. Final contract language was delivered to AFA’s office in Washington, DC for the required signature of AFA’s International President just last week.

As part of that deal, United management signed a letter of agreement in May 2003 to ensure that flight attendants retiring before July 1, 2003 would have access to health care benefits that were less costly and more comprehensive than those that would be in place for those who retire after that date. Based on that promise, over 2,500 flight attendants retired before the July 1 deadline.

United is now seeking to slash the medical benefits and significantly raise the out-of-pocket costs for those retirees despite the airline’s return to profitability. The cuts are not necessary for United’s successful reorganization.

“People I worked with for 30 years retired because the deal United management made was to limit health costs to those who retired before July 1, 2003,” said Friend. “Now those dedicated workers won’t be able to afford health care, or retirement, without government assistance because of the lawlessness and callousness United is displaying by reneging on that deal.”

AFA has received hundreds of calls from retirees asking if anything can be done through the courts to help protect them. All say they cannot afford the massive financial hit they will take after United forces them to pay hundreds of dollars per month of their already modest pensions just to continue health insurance.

More than 46,000 flight attendants, including the 21,000 flight attendants at United, join together to form AFA, the world’s largest flight attendant union. AFA is part of the 700,000 member strong Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO. Visit us at www.unitedafa.org.

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