Unions Talk of Striking if United Cuts Pensions

Facing huge cuts in their pensions plus a proposal to cut pay and benefits promised by their labor contracts, angry officials at three United Airlines labor unions threatened Wednesday to strike later this month.

But even if the courts sided with United and forbid a strike, ''a lot of our guys are fed up to the point where they wouldn't care,'' said Joseph Prisco, who heads the Bay Area local of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. ''They'd just walk out anyway. If they change our contract without our permission, our members are going to be screaming for the national director to call a strike, legal or not.''

Other major airlines are in trouble, too, having lost a total of more than $30 billion since 2000. If United is allowed to jettison its pension obligations, some competitors are expected to try to do the same, after they file for bankruptcy.

Among the most likely to pursue that option is Delta Airlines, which notified the federal government Tuesday that it may have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It's possible that Northwest Airlines also might seek to shed its pensions, said Jim Corridore, an airline equity analyst with Standard & Poor's.

Although American Airlines and Continental Airlines are in somewhat better shape, he added, ''all bets are off'' if aviation fuel costs remain high.

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