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Union leader says AA pilots angry over work rules

DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines says it still wants to work out a new contract with its pilots, but the union's president says a deal is less likely now that American has imposed its own terms covering pay and work rules.

"The pilots are mad," said Keith Wilson, acting president of the Allied Pilots Association. "This corporation is not treating any of the employee groups with the respect they deserve."

American, which has been under bankruptcy protection since November, warned pilots that it would impose its own terms if pilots rejected the company's final contract offer, which they did last month.

Wednesday night, the company detailed new working terms for pilots. They include more power for American to make revenue-sharing deals with other airlines and shift more flying to smaller, regional carriers — both steps that could reduce pilot jobs at American. The company will also freeze one of the pilots' pension plans and terminate another in November.

Pilots will work under those terms until the company and union agree on a negotiated contract to replace the one thrown out by a federal bankruptcy judge. Creditors of American parent AMR Corp. say they still want the Fort Worth, Texas, company to negotiate a new contract with pilots, and so does American, but there have been no negotiations for several weeks.

Wilson, who became acting president of the pilots' union after his predecessor was forced out last month, said in an interview that the path to a deal is now "steeper and higher." He said pilots will be less likely to accept concessions.

However, American had no choice but to set terms for pilots after the union voted down the company's last offer, said Ray Neidl, a longtime airline-industry analyst with Maxim Group LLC.

The company needs to cut its spending on pilots in order to move ahead with its bankruptcy restructuring, Neidl said. American expects to save about $1 billion in annual labor spending, including about $300 million on pilots. He also suggested that, despite what Wilson says, throwing out the pilots' contract could make it easier to negotiate a new one.

"Even though it does further stretch a tough relationship between management and labor, it does give labor an incentive to negotiate to get rid of some of the items that they don't like," Neidl said.

It's unclear what's next for pilots. Changes in the pension plans, combined with the high number of pilots nearing 65, could lead to more retirements. The union will continue to talk up a possible merger with US Airways, which has promised less-drastic contract cuts. And pilots are likely to carry out protests like the picketing that took place on Labor Day at the Miami airport.

Pilots are voting through Oct. 3 whether to authorize a strike. However, that's mostly a symbolic vote because it lacks the approval of federal officials for a legal strike — it will meet with those officials, the National Mediation Board, next week. Wilson has said pilots won't conduct an illegal strike.

Eight other groups represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the Transport Workers Union ratified long-term contracts with American that include cost-cutting measures but also payments for workers who quit. As a result, the number of layoffs will be "substantially less" than the roughly 13,000 originally estimated, said Denise Lynn, AMR's senior vice president for people.

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