PITTSBURGH -- The nation's largest flight attendants union said yesterday it would hold strike authorization votes at four major airlines, accusing the industry of using the bankruptcy process to cut workers' pay and other benefits.
The strike votes should be tallied by the end of December. After that, union officials plan to await the outcome of the airlines' bankruptcy proceedings before weighing whether to walk off the job.
''Almost everywhere we look, flight attendants are being forced to work longer hours with reduced rest time, and all for ever-decreasing wages. This must stop," Patricia Friend, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said at the opening of a meeting of the union's board of directors.
Friend said the union would immediately poll members at four airlines on whether to strike.
The union has 46,000 members employed by 26 airlines, but the four immediately at issue are United, US Airways, ATA, and Hawaiian.
It was unclear yesterday how many flight attendants -- and from what airlines -- would strike if union members approved a walkout.
The union would probably use ''our trademark chaos strike tactic, which involves intermittent strikes without notice as to flight, time, day, airport," union spokesman David Kameras said.
US Airways spokesman David A. Castelveter said the airline continues to negotiate.
''We understand the union's frustration," Castelveter said. He cautioned, however, that a strike ''would ground this airline and send approximately 5,400 flight attendants to the unemployment lines."
Friend noted the efforts at airlines such as United and US Airways to use the bankruptcy process to cancel union contracts and impose deep pay cuts.
She said the bankruptcy process is being used to terminate pension plans and eliminate health coverage for retirees.
''We intend to exercise our right to self-help, which is to withdraw our services," Friend said. She said seven carriers with union representation are in bankruptcy, with others on the brink.