Carnahan urges TWA seniority solution

Thursday, December 6, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Jean Carnahan is urging the Bush administration to get involved in stalled negotiations over seniority between the pilots unions for American Airlines and its new employees from the former Trans World Airlines.

In a letter released Wednesday, Carnahan, D-Mo., asked Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to try to revive talks over how much seniority TWA pilots should have. TWA pilots fear they will be the first to go under furloughs announced after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I fear that if a reasonable compromise cannot be reached, TWA employees will be at a distinct disadvantage in the integrated company," Carnahan wrote.

American purchased St. Louis-based TWA after the smaller carrier filed for bankruptcy a third and final time. On Sunday, thousands of TWA employees became American employees, as assets of the old TWA assumed the new American label.

Carnahan and Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond have tried before to involve Mineta, who thus far has refused.

A Transportation Department spokesman declined to comment until officials review the letter. Carnahan said that Mineta has argued his agency lacks jurisdiction over the matter.

But she disputed the claim and offered three examples to the contrary: Former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater asked Northwest Airlines' CEO and pilots union employees in 1998 to meet with him to resuscitate stalled contract talks; Slater met with United Airlines' CEO about labor disputes last September; and in June, Mineta called officials from Comair and its pilots union to Washington for negotiations to end a crippling strike -- a dispute that was resolved weeks later.

"I continue to believe that your participation may serve as a catalyst that will lead to an agreement," Carnahan wrote.

Latest effort

Carnahan's effort is the latest attempt by Missouri lawmakers to improve the position of TWA employees as American integrates its new work force. Bond has proposed legislation to require binding third-party arbitration if the two sides can't agree, but this effort has been unsuccessful thus far. Bond also called the pilots' unions to Washington for a round of talks, but negotiations collapsed. Flight attendants and mechanics are still at the bargaining table.

Bond said Wednesday that he, too, is pressing Mineta to get involved.

"We've talked about it, and he's gone back and forth," Bond said. "I'd like to see him move more quickly, but I have to say that in his defense, being transportation secretary these days is not the most fun job you could have picked in the administration."

He was referring to Mineta's heavy involvement in efforts to make airports and the rest of the nation safer following the terrorist attacks.

In the absence of an agreement between the pilots unions, American has signed off on a preliminary seniority list from the labor union representing American pilots, the Allied Pilots Association. It places at least 1,240 of TWA's 2,300 pilots on the bottom rungs of the seniority ladder. A National Mediation Board ruling that will resolve the issue is a long way off.

"It's certainly our preference, and it was from the beginning, to have a negotiated list that was agreed to jointly," American spokeswoman Karen Watson said.

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