The union representing US Airways pilots voted Tuesday to send out a concessionary contract to its 3,200 pilots that is meant to save the troubled airline $300 million a year.
The tentative agreement, reached after a sometimes contentious union meeting that lasted for about 11 hours, calls for a five-year pay cut of 18 percent, slashed vacation time and cuts to benefits that will save the airline $1.8 billion through 2009, according to the Air Line Pilots Association.
If the new contract is approved, pilots will have helped save the ailing airline a total of nearly $7 billion, including $5 billion through previous cuts through 2008, said Jack Stephan, a spokesman for the union.
However, US Airways said it still intends to ask a bankruptcy court judge Thursday to make temporary cuts of 23 percent on all union workers _ including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, ramp workers and customs agents _ and make cuts in its retirement plans.
A judge could rule within the next week as to whether the airline is entitled to make those harsher cuts. A spokesman for the airline would not discuss whether a deal with the union was possible that could postpone those larger cuts.
After the vote Tuesday night the union and US Airways continued negotiations to hammer out an agreement over whether the more drastic cuts could be held off until Oct. 21, when the pilots' votes will be tallied.
Representatives of the 12-member Master Executive Council, which voted on the tentative contact, said they were attempting to contact US Airways president Bruce Lakefield on Tuesday evening to see whether they could forestall any move for harsher cuts in bankruptcy court until the ratification vote occurs.
US Airways has said that without concessions from the union, it will have to liquidate the company by mid-February. The union said it was fully aware what would happen if concessions were not made. The company has said if it can't get concessions, it will seek permanent cuts in bankruptcy court.
"Absent ratification, we will proceed to seek emergency funding," US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said.
Proposed cuts for pilots "will look like nirvana compared with what will come down after that," Stephan said.
The nation's seventh-largest airline declared bankruptcy protection this year for the second time, citing inability to cut costs.
Planned cuts to management would include hundreds of layoffs and shed at least $45 million off the $201 million collective payroll for its management workers. The approximately 10 percent cut to upper ranks in the company would be made through attrition, the company said.
Meanwhile, US Airways said the union representing about 65 of the airline's flight crew training instructors ratified a contract Tuesday that the airline says will save it $1.6 million annually. The agreement also requires bankruptcy court approval.
The company employs 28,000 workers in its mainline operations and about 34,000 workers overall, with its main hub in Charlotte, N.C. It has a hub in Philadelphia but has reduced flights to its former hub in Pittsburgh, where the airport is being downgraded to a so-called "focus city."
About 84 percent of the airline's workers are covered under union contracts, according to the company's annual report.