Comair Flight Attendants to Vote on Deal

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Comair has proposed cutting new workers' starting salaries, instead of freezing flight attendants' pay, so the airline can buy more planes and attract new business.

The 1,000-member flight attendants' union will vote on the proposed deal through April 8. The local union's executive council has unanimously endorsed the deal, said Victoria Gray of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Comair's flight attendants.

Some union leaders have concerns about cutting the starting salaries of new attendants by about 20 percent for the first five years, but they felt the members should vote on the new proposal, Gray said.

Comair, a Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary, is trying to recover from a nationwide Christmas Day shutdown that resulted from the failure of a computer system it uses to schedule flight crews. Comair officials said the system collapsed after a pre-holiday snowstorm caused numerous flight changes. The storm and related expenses cost Delta $20 million, including $5 million attributable to the Comair shutdown.

Comair's 1,900-member pilots' union agreed March 1 to a two-year pay freeze that union officials said would save the regional carrier based at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport $20 million.

Comair officials would not comment on the proposed deal with the flight attendants, saying they wanted the employees to review it first. But in a memo released jointly with the union, the company said it was focused on ''finding a balanced approach to address the challenging issues we face together.''

Comair president Fred Buttrell originally asked for a pay freeze from the flight attendants, but after six weeks of negotiations the company suggested the lower pay scale for new workers, Gray said.

The proposed deal also would guarantee the delivery of 35 new regional jets and increase the number of flight attendants by at least 3 percent to ensure adequate staffing.

Comair would agree to improve work rules on maternity leave and vacation and hotel scheduling. The contract would be extended by one year until 2008.

Gray said the concessions would save the company a substantial amount of money and would keep Comair's flight attendants the highest-paid in the regional industry. Comair flight attendants earn about $20,000 to $40,000 annually.

Delta shares rose 8 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $4.28 in early trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has been trading at a 52-week range of $2.75 to $8.59.