updated 2/3/2005 4:56:00 PM ET 2005-02-03T21:56:00

The head of United Airlines' mechanics union assailed the carrier's chief executive Thursday for saying the company is prepared to go to trial if necessary to achieve the labor cost reductions it needs to exit bankruptcy.

O.V. Delle-Femine, national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, said CEO Glenn Tilton's comments in a recorded message to employees constitute a threat that undermines negotiations between AMFA and United parent UAL Corp.

"His rhetoric only exacerbates and inflames the tensions and distrust our members already have towards UAL management," he said. "He is signaling that UAL does not intend to engage seriously in the give-and-take of negotiations because he has a different endgame strategy in mind: the court system."

The union leader's comments set a hard-line tone as the two sides try to work out a contract agreement.

A bankruptcy judge on Monday imposed short-term wage and benefit cuts on the mechanics after they rejected the airline's latest contract offer last week. The cuts took effect this week immediately and expire in May.

United is holding separate negotiations with the union representing its public contact and ramp and baggage workers, who also had short-term cuts put in place last month.

Tilton told employees Tuesday: "If we cannot reach ratifiable agreements on permanent cost savings with AMFA and the IAM, we will then go to trial. This is the hard work that we have to do."

An AMFA spokesman had said initially Tuesday that Tilton's remarks contained nothing new or inflammatory.

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