American Airlines planes sit at their gates at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Wednesday is the last day of scheduled negotiations, in what's been seen as a critical week. But a spokesman for the union said it was possible talks could continue into the night, or more could be scheduled beyond that.
If flight attendants do not reach an agreement with the company this week, the union has said it may ask to be released from federal mediation, a move that would trigger a 30-day cooling-off period and start the clock ticking toward a possible strike.
The issues still unresolved are the hardest, including pay, benefits, and productivity. The union insists its workers must be paid more in return for the cuts employees took to help keep the airline out of bankruptcy in 2002. Management insists any pay increase must be tied to increased work hours.
In a sign that both sides are taking the possibility of a strike seriously, American management has sought advice from the Federal Aviation Administration in recent days, asking what it would take to train replacement flight attendants to help keep the airline flying if a strike happens. The airline used a similar plan the last time the flight attendants walked out in 1993.
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford declined to comment on details of the agency's discussions with American. "As with all labor situations, we stay in close contact with the airlines and consult as needed," Lunsford said.
Other unions and other airlines will be watching the outcome of the American flight attendants talks closely. Observers are eager to see how the Obama Administration would respond to the threat of a strike in the airline industry.
American Airlines pilots and ground workers are also in federal mediation with the company and airlines including United, Continental, Spirit, and US Airways are all involved in ongoing talks with various unions.