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Flight attendants protest executive bonuses – 4.14.07

Flight attendants protest executive bonuses

American flight attendants protest executive bonuses

By TREBOR BANSTETTER, STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER

FORT WORTH — Hundreds of American Airlines flight attendants descended on the airline's corporate headquarters Friday, chanting about executive greed and vowing to regain wages and benefits they lost four years ago.

The rally was organized by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 20,000 American attendants. It was intended to showcase worker outrage over a slate of lucrative stock bonuses for top executives and managers scheduled to pay out next week. The protesters, who arrived in buses at American's Fort Worth headquarters, carried signs and chanted slogans like "Arpey's got the gold mine, we got the shaft."

A blimp-shaped balloon flying over the headquarters building read, "It took 80,000 employees to pull American Airlines together, and only 874 executives to pull us apart." And union members zipped around the parking lot on bright yellow scooters, pulling large signs criticizing airline executives.

The rally was the first in a series of protests in coming days organized by the airline's unions. On Tuesday, flight attendants will picket at 15 airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. And American's pilots will hold a rally and march Wednesday to criticize the bonuses.

"It's so frustrating, and it's an embarrassment to our airline," said Ronda Johnson, a D/FW-based flight attendant who had her 3-year-old daughter, Dahlia, with her. "We've been struggling since 2003."

The bonuses, which are based on American's stock price and other performance measures, will benefit 874 executives and top managers. Estimates vary, but union leaders say the payouts could be worth more than $200 million.

Gerard Arpey, American's chief executive, is expected to receive more than $7 million under the deal, according to union leaders. Arpey wasn't working at the headquarters during the rally, company officials said.

American officials defended the bonuses as a crucial part of top managers' compensation packages and pointed out that the managers don't collect if the company doesn't perform well.

Jeff Brundage, American's senior vice president of human resources, said the airline's employees have richer contacts than many of the carrier's bankrupt rivals. He also pointed out that American still has its pension plans, unlike many other airlines.

Still, he acknowledged, "When your employees take a day off and erect a tent in your parking lot to express their opinion, it's clearly important."

Attendants say the bonuses are particularly frustrating because they have worked under reduced wages and benefits since 2003, when union members approved $1.6 billion in annual concessions that kept American out of bankruptcy.

"We're working longer days for less pay, and it's like they don't care," said Juan Luarca, a 29-year veteran of the airline who is based at D/FW. "It's very disheartening."

Tommie Hutto-Blake, the union's president, told members that she would fight to win back their lost wages in contract negotiations, which will begin in the next year.

"We do not hesitate to have our voices heard on injustice," she said.

Shares of AMR Corp., American's parent company (ticker: AMR) fell 34 cents to $30.34.

Trebor Banstetter, 817-390-7064 [email protected]

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