msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/8/2005 7:02:45 PM ET 2005-12-09T00:02:45

Continental Airlines has reached a tentative labor agreement with the union representing its more than 8,000 flight attendants, the two sides said Thursday.

The agreement, if ratified by union members next month, would avoid a possible strike at the nation's fifth-largest carrier.

The two sides had been holding on-and-off talks since the union rejected an $82 million cut in wages and benefits in March. A federal mediator was brought in last June.

The terms of the four-year tentative agreement include preservation of wage rates for current flight attendants, including a top base pay raise to $50 an hour by the end of the agreement, according to the Machinists union, which represents the 8,300 flight attendants.

"Our members demanded we prevent the massive pay cuts and pension losses suffered by flight attendants at other carriers, and we succeeded," said William O'Driscoll, president of Machinists District 142 in a statement.

Continental said its chairman and chief executive Larry Kellner took part in the talks Thursday at the offices of the National Mediation Board in Washington. The board said that session was the last one that would have been held under the auspices of the mediator.

"I want to thank the IAM leadership and its negotiating team for working together with Continental to get this deal done within the deadline set by the National Mediation Board," Kellner said in a statement. "Now, we must go forward and get this agreement ratified."

The union vote is scheduled for Jan. 17-30.

Continental reached pay and benefit cut agreements in March with its pilots, mechanics and other unions. Along with with $169 million in previously disclosed wage and benefit cuts affecting non-union employees, the airline had attained about $418 million of its targeted $500 million in cost cuts to combat continued losses and soaring jet fuel prices.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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