Nearly Half Triad Workers Seek US Airways Early Out Deal

March 16, 2005
The demand could have a significant impact on US Airways' ability to collect up to $300,000 in incentives promised over three years from the city and Forsyth County.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- An ''early out'' package for reservations employees at US Airways is proving more popular than expected, and could cause the airline's work force here to drop by nearly half as of this fall.

The demand could have a significant impact on US Airways' ability to collect up to $300,000 in incentives promised over three years from the city and Forsyth County. The incentives are based on meeting targets for job retention, job creation and capital investment.

The Virginia-based airline, which has its largest hub in Charlotte, is trying to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company said on Jan. 26 that it would consolidate four reservation or call centers in Winston-Salem and Pittsburgh into its 100,000-square-foot center here by Sept. 30. It offered a payout of up to $20,000 and other benefits to employees who voluntarily leave their jobs.

About 56 percent of the airline's reservation staff in Winston-Salem and Pittsburgh _ 918 employees _ applied for the package, according to the Communications Workers of America. That included 384 reservation employees in Winston-Salem, whose departure would leave 466 workers at the site.

The airline has until April 11 to inform employees what would be their last day at work.

Cathy Bumgarner, a 22-year employee, said she took the package because she doesn't believe the airline has a future.

''I think the airline likely was caught off guard that so many people chose to take the package in Winston-Salem,'' she said. ''Many of the jobs of the people taking the early out will be outsourced, and the people who have chosen to remain at the reservation center will be overworked and underpaid.''

Airline spokesman David Castelveter said US Airways has not yet decided where it might outsource jobs or how many might be involved. The company can contract out the work of any employee who leaves voluntarily, and could transfer the reservations jobs to operations in El Salvador or Mexico.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said 534 employees in Pittsburgh applied for the package by the deadline last Saturday.

Castelveter said the airline is working with the communications union to decide the final number of employees taking the package. The airline also is determining how many employees have requested a furlough and how many want to transfer to the Winston-Salem center.

He said the airline has received and responded to the city's incentive package approved on Feb. 21, but declined to discuss the response.

Ann Overby began working for Piedmont Airlines at age 18 and has been with the airline's successors for 26 years. She said her decision to take the package was bittersweet.

''I basically grew up with this company and had a lot of loyalty for the company,'' Overby said. ''I gave my blood, sweat and tears to this place, working through Christmas, family birthdays and driving through severe weather to get to work.

''At least I'm still young enough to move on to another career. This airline will really miss the knowledge and consistency of the reservation employees it is letting walk out the door.''


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal,