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America West Strike, Talks Loom

The countdown is on: Eight days remain until a possible strike by America West flight attendants and six days remain before the next talks between management and workers.

The 2,400 flight attendants, without a contract for four years, are free to strike at 10:01 p.m. March 19, when a required cooling-off period expires. Their leaders have said they plan random stoppages if there still is no deal.

America West has said it might halt operations if flight attendants strike.

The National Mediation Board, which tried unsuccessfully to find a compromise earlier, announced the "supermediation" talks on Tuesday. They will be conducted in Washington, D.C., under the supervision of mediation board member Ernest DuBester.

The negotiations are to reopen on March 17.

The combination has travelers seeking bookings with other lines.

America West and the Association of Flight Attendants Council 66 are at odds over salary, travel expenses and more than $5 million in bonus pay. The AFA also wants flight attendants to be paid for actual work time, rather than the scheduled flight time, which does not account for delays.

America West said it has been trying for two weeks to meet with the AFA to resolve questions about each side's proposals. The AFA said it would present its offer during supermediation.

America West has proposed increasing starting pay from $14.28 per hour to $16.13, and top pay from $24.41, to $34.59.

The union is trying to increase wages to close to the industry average for the top 10 airlines, which would mean $15.11 per hour for starting pay and $39.50 for the most experienced flight attendants.

The AFA says its proposal would increase America West's costs for flight attendants by $74.5 million over the five years of the contract. The company values its proposal at $68.7 million, but the AFA contests that figure and insists that the two sides are $16.5 million apart on a contract.

America West's flight attendants have been seeking their first contract since voting for union representation in 1994. They rejected a tentative agreement worked out in October 1997.