Union leaders at American Airlines expressed outrage Tuesday after the company asked a bankruptcy judge to throw out its labor contracts.
"We're angry. We're frustrated. We think it was very mean," said Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
The airline vowed to continue negotiations but asked the judge to reject its current agreements if no deal is struck, allowing the company to impose $1.5 billion per year in labor cuts.
"We're dealing with a brutally difficult marketplace that allows no room for the kinds of costs we have today," said American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks. "We must turn this around, and we must be able to preserve the jobs of tens of thousands of employees."
Labor leaders say they already made major concessions in 2003 when the airline was on the verge of bankruptcy.
"Terminating our contract is something that really, to a lot of the people I represent and in our minds, is bull," said Darrin Pierce, president of the local Transport Workers Union, which represents many mechanics and ground workers.
A spokesman for the pilots union was equally blunt.
"Just a few weeks ago, we offered to arbitrate this with a neutral party," said Howie Schack, of the Allied Pilots Association. "And now, this week, the company is going right to the court and wants to destroy our working conditions."
As the judge considers the company's request, negotiations will continue.
But analysts say pressure on unions is mounting to make major concessions and that the company now holds most of the cards.
"They've sort of upped the ante," said aviation attorney Kent Krause, of Dallas. "The court may end up having to decide it, but it may also force the parties to get serious about negotiations."
The American spokesman said despite the court filing, the company still hopes to reach voluntary contracts.
"Our intent is to achieve the cost savings necessary through consensus -- not through court order," Hicks said. "And we intend to continue to negotiate."
Union leaders also said they will try to negotiate.
But both sides seem far apart.
"We feel as though we have no more to give," Glading said.
The bankruptcy judge has 21 days to set a hearing on American's request.
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