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United Flight Attendants Receive Support from Senators in Fight to Save Retiree Health Benefits

Date: February 23, 2004

CHICAGO -- Nineteen U.S. Senators signed on to a letter authored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) asking United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton to adhere to the agreement with retirees and reconsider the airline’s planned changes to retiree health benefits because of the hardship it will bring to them and their families.

A portion of the Senators’ letter read:

"We understand that in the time since United entered bankruptcy proceedings, its employees and retirees have made many sacrifices to help United reduce its costs and reorganize successfully. Pilots, flight attendants, maintenance workers, and customer service workers have made substantial concessions to assist the company.

"As part of these concessions, employees have agreed to a reduction in future medical benefits and an increase in health care premiums. United gave employees the option of retiring before July 1, 2003 in order to qualify for existing retiree medical benefits without reduction and without increased costs. Thousands of employees retired in the first six months of 2003 in order to preserve their retiree health care coverage."

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 agreement, over 2,500 flight attendants retired before the July 1 deadline, only to find out just six months later that United intends to double-cross them and cut their benefits. These changes will force retirees to pay hundreds of dollars more per month of their modest pensions just to continue health insurance.

A letter from members of the House was sent to United on Feb. 13. Retirees and active flight attendants personally delivered thousands of letters of protest to Tilton on Feb 13. Copies of the letters from the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as a selection of letters sent by retirees, may be viewed at www.unitedafa.org.

"We are thankful for the overwhelming support from both the Senate and the House on this issue," said United AFA Master Executive Council President Greg Davidowitch. "Corporate America is in a race to destroy the security of health care for seniors and United Airlines is leading the way. The very people who have given decades of dedicated service to this airline are repaid for their commitment with management’s ill-conceived plan that will leave many retirees without options and flat broke."

On Friday, the bankruptcy court ruled to appoint an examiner to investigate United Airlines' scheme to intentionally mislead thousands of flight attendants into ending their careers or retiring early, defrauding them out of their retirement benefits.

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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