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Facing labor matters as the last major hurdle to its acquisition of Trans World Airlines Inc., AMR Corp. is taking an atypically diplomatic stance in negotiations with unions at TWA. The main unions representing workers at the two airlines must resolve several thorny issues — including seniority status and workers’ rights — before AMR, the Fort Worth, Texas-based parent of American Airlines, can take control of TWA. Top officials at the unions have been meeting since the deal was announced Jan. 10, but significant differences remain, representatives say. They will hold another round of negotiations over the next few days. On other fronts, AMR has been pushing for a quick close to the $742 million deal. The U.S. Department of Justice has approved the deal, and in a court-run auction, a bankruptcy judge has declared AMR the winner of TWA’s assets. All that remains for AMR is certification from the Department of Transportation and final consent from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., both of which are expected next week. There is still a chance the labor issues will be resolved soon, too. The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents American pilots, is to begin a four-day series of meetings today with the TWA branch of the Air Line Pilots Association. And next week, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) will review data supplied by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers that should indicate how far apart the unions are, said TWU official Jim Little. But neither step is likely to be the last in the process. The APA’s board of directors would still need to scrutinize any agreement before approving it, said Greg Overman, an APA spokesman. The TWU would need to do likewise, Little said. “We have 21 [union] locals that are impacted,” Little said. The union hopes to have an agreement by June, he added. The difference in timing has raised the likelihood that labor matters will delay closing. Nonetheless, AMR representatives have taken a low profile in negotiations, countering the notion that they would sacrifice labor peace to rush the deal to completion, say union representatives. A spokeswoman for AMR said recently that the airline is treating the TWA deal no differently than previous acquisitions. But AMR’s tactics contrast starkly to the company’s 1999 purchase of Reno Air Inc., a deal that ultimately sparked an eight-day “sick-out” by American’s pilots, labor experts say. AMR “came across as heavy-handed” in the Reno negotiations, said David Walsh, an associate professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “That’s still festering underneath all of this.” As in the Reno deal, AMR plans to operate TWA as an independent subsidiary during a transition period, which could run as long as five years. Under that arrangement, TWA’s pilots, flight attendants and ground workers will likely get pay increases to bring their salaries in line with American’s workers. But TWA employees will probably continue to work on terms similar to those contained in their current contract with TWA. Some of these provisions conflict with certain AMR work rules, and lawyers for TWA have asked the bankruptcy court to strip the offending terms out of its agreement. Still, AMR’s unions could yet block the deal over contractual requirements that all the airline’s workers be covered under the same rules. “They could close the deal, but they need our agreement … to operate the carrier,” the APA’s Overman said. That is not an empty threat, airline experts said. The Reno Air pilots’ sick-out was a disaster for American, even though a judge fined the APA $45.5 million for the job action. The fact that the pilots were willing to act anyway shows they are serious about protecting their work rights, said John Delaney, a labor professor at Michigan State University. “The big difference between Reno Air and now is [AMR officials] know how pilots responded, and they know they won’t make the same mistake twice,” Delaney said. Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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