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The head of the pilots' union is making an emotional pitch to approve a tentative contract with American Airlines, saying rejecting the deal would set pilots on "a path of self-destruction."
Allied Pilots Association president Keith Wilson said Tuesday that the contract would eventually boost pay to industry standards.
Wilson said some opponents of the contract are intent on punishing airline management and not helping American emerge from bankruptcy protection as a successful company.
The message underscored the deep divisions within the union and hostility that many pilots harbor toward management of American and its parent, AMR Corp.
In August pilots rejected another offer from American by a 61-to-39-percent margin. American responded by cutting pay and benefits, which was followed by a surge in delayed and canceled flights that American blamed on an illegal work slowdown by pilots.
The latest agreement would eventually raise pay in line with pilots at United Airlines and Delta Air Lines and give pilots 13.5 percent of AMR stock after bankruptcy. In exchange, American would get more flexibility to outsource flying to other airlines. Some pilots oppose the six-year length of the deal. Voting ends Dec. 7.
American is trying to use the bankruptcy process to cut annual labor costs by about $1 billion.
Wilson said in a message to union members that another pilot told him he'd rather see American liquidate rather than approve the latest deal. Wilson responded with a reference to an airline that failed after crippling strikes and lockouts.
"While martyrdom in the manner of Eastern Airlines is one option, I do not believe that the majority of our pilots would prefer to embark upon a path of self-destruction in order to make a political point or poke management in the eye," he wrote.
Wilson, who has said he voted against the company's August offer, said the deal now before pilots is much better.
Robert Mann, an aviation-industry consultant who once worked at American, said Wilson's comments seemed reasonable and aimed at overcoming a "toxic lack of regard for and mistrust of the AMR management team" among rank-and-file pilots.
American declined to comment.
Unions for American's pilots, flight attendants and mechanics support a takeover of AMR by US Airways Group Inc., and agreed on conditional contracts with US Airways. The companies have been talking about a potential merger for two months, but signs indicate that AMR prefers to emerge from bankruptcy protection on its own.