U.S. Airways flight attendants vote to authorize strike

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Nearly one week after picketing outside of Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal 4, US Airways flight attendants voted to authorize a strike, drawing attention to a contract they say is long overdue.

"This has been going on for seven years," said Deborah Volpe, president of the Phoenix-based Association of Flight Attendants. "We are willing to do what it takes to get our message across."

Volpe said issues stem from the merger of America West with US Airways years ago. She said America West flight attendants were never brought up to the same pay scale.

"We have flight attendants in Phoenix making 42 percent less in pay than their East counterparts for doing the same job," Volpe said. "They've lost cars, they've lost homes. We have flight attendants that literally go from couch to couch.

"We've had to start a food bank in our office to help our flight attendants with the most basic of needs," she added.

A spokesman with US Airways declined to go on camera Tuesday but said flight attendants rejected a contract in September that would have increased pay.

In a statement, the airline said, "The union has told our flight attendants that the strike vote is about positioning at the bargaining table and not about striking, and the union has not requested that the National Mediation Board cease the mediation and negotiations process."

The board, a federal authority that guides negotiations and sets the timeline, has not given the go-ahead to strike, so US Airways officials said there will be no operational or flight disruptions during the holiday travel season.

Flight attendants say if management fails to reach an agreement, and both parties are released from mediation, a 30-day cooling off period would begin before a potential strike could occur.

And while a date is uncertain, flight attendants say they are prepared to use CHAOS tactics, which stands for "Create Havoc Around Our System."

"These would be intermittent strikes," Volpe said. "You wouldn't know which flight it would be. It could be your flight; it could be your neighbor's flight."

It's a hypothetical that doesn't fly with many US Airways passengers who say traveling is tough enough.

"I'd use a different airline for sure," said passenger Kimba Chelsvig.

"I think you'd be stuck in the middle, one of the many travelers that would be stuck," said Kevin Riley, another passenger.

The strike vote comes amid talk of a possible merger with American Airlines. A spokesman for US Airways declined to comment on how one might affect the other.