WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bargainers for US Airways and its flight attendants' union reached a tentative contract agreement Saturday after working through the night to avert a strike that had threatened to shut down the airline.
''The contract is a five-year agreement flight attendants can be proud of. It was won with the solidarity and perseverance of 10,000 flight attendants,'' said Association of Flight Attendant's negotiator Lynn Lenosky, announcing the agreement in the early morning hours.
The agreement means US Airways flights will not be disrupted this weekend as had been feared by many ticket holders.
The company issued a statement saying ''the AFA's leadership and the company's management worked extremely hard to put in place an agreement that works for our flight attendants and allows the company to compete in the marketplace.''
''We are very pleased that we were able to do so and that there will be no interruption in service or inconvenience for our customers,'' it said.
Union and airline bargainers stayed at the table for more than three hours past a 12:01 a.m. EST strike deadline in order to seal the deal. US Airways had said it would halt operations rather than try to weather a strike.
President Clinton, who has strikebreaking powers in the transportation industry, was kept briefed on progress of the negotiations.
At one point during the night, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart issued a statement saying Clinton, who is traveling abroad, ''urges the two sides to stay at the table and redouble their efforts to reach an agreement as soon as possible. They owe that to each other and to the American people.''
The tentative contract agreement still must be approved by the union's master council and by a vote of rank-and-file flight attendants.
Full details were not immediately available. But Lenosky said the deal provides flight attendants with ''fair raises,'' improved retirement benefits and some additional paid time off.
US Airways' 10,000 flight attendants had been working under a contract that expired at the end of 1996. It gave them their last pay raise, 4 percent, at the beginning of that year.
More than three years of negotiations reached a critical point Friday as a 30-day cooling off period ordered by the National Mediation Board, which oversees labor disputes in the transportation industry, neared its end.
The flight attendants' union had threatened to use unconventional strike tactics involving selective work stoppages on high-traffic routes.
US Airways officials said they would rather shut down than stand for that.
Down to the wire, both sides were preparing to make good on their threats.
Off-duty US Airways attendants who picketed airports across the country Friday persisted into the evening with candlelight vigils.
Meanwhile, an internal memo to US Airways employees said that in the event of a flight attendants' strike, the airline's other 35,000 workers should report to work if scheduled today and expect to be ''busy with activities related to the shutdown,'' including helping passengers rebook flights. The company added that those who refuse to cross picket lines would forfeit pay.
US Airways let passengers know earlier in the week that if it halted operations, other major airlines and Amtrak had agreed to honor its tickets as long as seats were available. But many nervous travel agents had stopped booking US Airways flights.
Still, some hopeful weekend travelers took their chances -- and, as it turns out, are in luck.
Mary Ann Perozzo, who flew from Washington to Atlanta Friday evening to visit her fiance, shrugged off the threat of getting stranded, saying ''It could be an adventure.'' Instead, she will be able to return today on a US Airways flight, as she planned.
On the Net: Association of Flight Attendants: http://www.afausairways.org
US Airways: http://www.usairways.com
National Mediation Board: http://www.nmb.gov
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