BA averts strike action in America

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BRITISH AIRWAYS said yesterday that it is continuing contract negotiations with the US Machinists union even after a strike deadline passed.

The union received a new proposal from the airline just prior to the deadline, set for midnight on Friday. Reservation agents, mechanics, baggage handlers and customer service workers for BA in the US were prepared to set up picket lines.

A US federal mediator is taking part in the talks. The union and the company are at odds over wages, work rules, and a planned shutdown of two reservation centres.

"The parties are still talking and there's no work stoppage," said Iain Burns at BA. "When negotiations are under way, it's normal for talks to continue even after a deadline passes."

If the Machinists strike or start a work slowdown, BA has made contingency plans to fly a normal schedule, which consists of 76 flights daily between Europe and the US.

The union has already rejected one agreement. After talks reached an impasse last month, US federal mediators instituted a 30-day cooling-off period. Workers are upset that the airline plans to close reservation centres in New York and Houston in three years, displacing about half of the 1,800 Machinists union members working for BA in the US. The airline plans to sub-contract the work or route phone calls to other BA reservation centres.