Alitalia Workers Agree to End Wildcat Strikes

Workers from Alitalia agreed Thursday to end a week of wildcat pickets at Rome's main airport that have forced the airline to cancel hundreds of flights and put the company's future in question.

The employees agreed to an appeal from labor unions to stop the protests after the government called a meeting with unions and Alitalia's management for Feb. 1., said Mauro Rossi, an official an official with Filt-Cgil transport union.

"The workers fully share the decision by the unions," said Rossi, speaking from the Leonardo da Vinci airport. "They are gradually coming back in" from the pickets, Rossi said.

He said, however, that it could be several days before workers catch up on maintenance work on the Alitalia fleet, raising the possibility of further disruptions.

Alitalia said the tail end of the protests would put 170 of its flights at risk on Thursday.

Workers have been protesting Alitalia's restructuring efforts, which include cutting jobs and spinning off the airline's flight unit from its less profitable ground services business.

The strikes have forced Alitalia to cancel hundreds of flights over the last week, with 175 canceled on Wednesday.

Financial newspaper Il Sole-24 Ore reported Thursday that the protests were costing Alitalia euro10 million (US$12 million) a day.

The strikes have raised questions over Alitalia's ability to push through its restructuring, seen as key for its longer term survival.

Speaking on a television talk show Thursday, Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti warned that "the turnaround plan must be respected or else Alitalia will collapse." But Tremonti also said that Alitalia was "a good company with good prospects."

Alitalia Chairman and Chief Executive Giancarlo Cimoli wants the state-run holding company Fintecna SpA to take a majority stake in the company's ground services branch, AZ Service, in order to give the flight company AZ Fly greater flexibility and a slimmer payroll.

Unions, which have already accepted nearly 3,700 job cuts to reduce Alitalia's total staff to just under 20,000, oppose hiving off AZ Service because they fear it will reduce their negotiating clout with management and the government.

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