CHICAGO -- The union representing 20,000 ramp workers and customer-service agents at United Airlines reported ''significant progress" yesterday in negotiations aimed at averting a contract deadlock and threatened strike.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers gave the upbeat report as it continued marathon talks with United to work out a deal before this afternoon, when a Bankruptcy Court trial is due to resume on United's proposal to impose lower pay and benefits.
The union -- the largest at the nation's number two carrier -- said that while differences remained over pensions and job security, the two sides were exchanging revisions to try to wrap up a tentative contract agreement.
Top IAM official Randy Canale told members the union had delivered an amended contract proposal to the company at 3:30 a.m. yesterday and talks were continuing.
''Discussions with company representatives regarding the IAM's proposal resumed early this morning and significant progress has been made," Canale, president of IAM District 141, said in a communique posted on the union's website.
Spokeswoman Jean Medina of United, a unit of UAL Corp., said only that talks were ongoing.
Judge Eugene Wedoff had postponed trial testimony scheduled for Tuesday and yesterday in a two-day recess designed to let the sides work out a contract, thus forgoing the need for a verdict that likely would cause United problems no matter which way he ruled.
A tentative settlement would mean United has clinched contract deals with all its employee groups, effectively completing its bid to cut labor costs by $700 million annually before it makes a concerted push to come out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
United's 7,000 mechanics continued voting yesterday on a tentative five-year deal agreed to by their negotiators from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association on Monday night.
While AMFA's leadership has not recommended whether its members vote to ratify the contract, which would cut their pay by an additional 3.9 percent and shrink their benefits, union chief O.V. Delle-Femine told them a ''No" vote could produce a worse outcome.
Separately, the Association of Flight Attendants continued efforts yesterday to overturn Wedoff's May 10 approval of an agreement under which United intends to turn its pension plans over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. by the end of this month.
The AFA filed an appeal of the ruling with US District Court in Chicago.