American Pilots In Hot Seat

The battle isn't over for American airlines pilots, as their union continues to negotiate with the airline. The pilots still face the threat of a multimillion-dollar fine for the sick-out that grounded thousands of flights and inconvenienced passengers over the holiday weekend.

For American Airlines passengers, the impact of the "sickout" appears to be over. By midweek, most scheduled flights were running normally.

"It's regretful that our passengers were inconvenienced," Richard LaVoy, President of the Allied Pilots Association, told CBS News on Friday. "This is very distasteful to our pilots, but we're fighting for our jobs here."

In a Dallas courtroom Wednesday, American Airlines told a federal judge that more than 600,000 passengers were affected during the pilots' 10-day sickout and that it cost the company close to $58.7 million.

U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall agreed to give the union more time to defend itself against contempt charges that stemmed from failing to halt a sickout that at one point grounded more than half the flights of the nation's second-largest air carrier. The union and the airline now have until April 12 to settle their differences.

Judge Kendall said Wednesday, "It's time to cool down and take the loaded guns away from each other's heads."

Kendall also ruled that a temporary restraining order issued a week ago ordering the pilots to return to their cockpits will remain in effect through May 10.

The union had asked Judge Kendall to hear its side of the case before imposing damages. The APA said it needed more time to rebut claims of financial harm the carrier says it suffered as a result of the job action.

The airline's lawyer, Dee Kelly, urged the judge to proceed, saying, "I frankly think they've had notice. The airline has suffered huge losses and we would like to show the court how much."

At the heart of the dispute are pay scales for pilots from American Airlines' newly acquired Reno Air.

"Reno Airlines, on the West Coast, came into existence as an upstart carrier supported by American Airlines," LaVoy says. "Our pilots got pink slips while they operated the low-paid carrier for the last six years."

During the hearing Wednesday, American's lawyers gave the judge an e-mail they said was posted in a pilots' Internet chat room. Sources tell CBS News the e-mail was a threat to the judge, to the effect of "back off or else."

LaVoy disassociated the union from the e-mail Wednesday, saying, "That was a single e-mail, a private e-mail that is really amongst pilots."

The union appears to be fighting its own internal battle as well. On the biggest day of the sickout last week, just a quarter of American's pilots phoned in sick. One pilot who asked not to be identified said he was threatened for going in to work.

LaVoy said the pilots in the union "are being assaulted literally on a worldwide basis." H said that 55 percent of American Airlines' ticketed passengers to Canada today fly on Canadian Airlines as a result of agreements that American Airlines has made.

LaVoy said that other U.S. airlines were having the same problems.

"American has agreements right now with 26 airlines around the country, and they simply refuse to negotiate any fair proportion of flying," LaVoy said. "I think all of the U.S. pilots are really in danger over the coming decades of leaving the cockpits."
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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