News Column

US Airways Workers Wait for Word on Call Center

Feb. 13, 2013

Richard Craver

The US Airways Group Inc. reservation center off Hanes Mall Boulevard could be in store for another rollercoaster ride with its workforce of 850 if the airline merges with American Airlines.

If the two carriers strike a deal, it would create the world's biggest airline by passenger traffic. Analysts cautioned the airline would not be as financially strong -- at least at first -- than its competitors.

American has operated under bankruptcy protection since November 2011.

Both airlines are declining to speak publicly about the proposed merger. Although US Airways would be the acquirer, the combined airline is expected to keep the American brand.

The companies' boards of directors are expected to meet today to discuss key issues such as who will lead the merged airline. The consensus among analysts is US Airways chief executive Doug Parker.

Vickey Hoots, president of Communications Workers of America Local 3640, said Tuesday that 850 of US Airways' 1,500 global reservation employees are based in the around-the-clock Winston-Salem center. About 700 Winston-Salem employees are represented by the union.

American said Tuesday it has 1,200 of its 5,200 global reservation employees at a call center in the Triangle. None are represented by a union.

The local center lost 1,132 jobs between August 2004 and October 2005, hitting a low of 468 employees. The bulk of those jobs were eliminated by a previous US Airways management team trying to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

However, America West Holdings Corp. also transferred jobs to Arizona as part of buying US Airways in September 2005.

A collective-bargaining agreement with CWA allowed the airline to transfer the bulk of domestic reservation sales and service calls to foreign centers until Nov. 1, 2011. The union also accepted a 13 percent pay cut.

When that agreement expired, the airline returned 900 out of 2,000 jobs to the United States -- 400 in Winston-Salem, 350 in Phoenix and 150 in Reno, Nev. At that time, local reservation officials expressed hope the workforce would exceed 1,000.

One plus for the Winston-Salem center: When Parker announced the initial returning wave of reservation jobs, he cited the quality of the Winston-Salem workforce for the decision to expand more here. He also cited US Airways' legacy and heritage in Winston-Salem, which dates back to the 1940s and Piedmont Aviation, and the local community's response to its incentive request.

American said it has 2,100 reservation employees working in its headquarters area of Dallas/Fort Worth. It also has reservation employees working from home. American reservations, ticket and gate employees last month rejected a CWA Local 6001 attempt at forming a union by 150 votes.

That means another union drive cannot be launched involving those workers for 12 months, per National Mediation Board regulations.

Hoots said CWA Local 3640 will be in Phoenix on Friday to resume negotiation on their contract with US Airways. Reservations workers are covered by the Railway Labor Act, which means contracts cannot expire, but they can be amended.

Hoots said the union is negotiating for an increase in wages and benefits and more job security. Starting pay at the reservation center was $9.96 an hour as of November 2011.

Source: (c)2013 Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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