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Air France pilots end strike

Pilots union eliminates two-tier pay structure

PARIS, June 10 -- Air France reached an agreement today with striking pilots to end a 10-day walkout that severely undermined preparations for the World Cup.

However, French unions representing train drivers, baggage handlers, and some bus services are still striking.

Air France said the pilots had agreed to accept company shares in exchange for salary cuts -- and the company, in turn, scrapped a two-tier salary scale, under which new pilots earned less. Air France said part of the agreement also involved guaranteed training for young pilots.

The pilots have been protesting a proposal for $83 million in salary cuts. Air France had said cuts were needed to modernize the airline, which neared bankruptcy in 1993, but reported profits in 1996 and 1997.

The strike embarrassed Air France, the World Cup's official carrier, as well as the French government.

An estimated 1 million fans are expected to travel to France for the month-long soccer tournament, which begins today with a match between defending champion Brazil and Scotland. Many fans already have arrived, some of them forced to switch airlines.

Jean-Cyril Spinetta, the president of Air France, told France Info radio today "this is a compromise that is good for the company, good for the employees and good for the clients."

But he added that the consequences of the strike were heavy and that the strike had cost the company $166 million.

The pilots seemed satisfied with the agreement.

"On the whole, the agreement is a good one for everybody. The company had its constraints and its objectives to achieve. I think it will be able to reach them," said Christian Paris, a spokesman for the SNPL, the main pilots' union.

Air France called for an immediate return to work, though it has said it would take three days to normalize service.

Just Tuesday night, as World Cup celebrations began in Paris, negotiations had seemed deadlocked. Pilots had gathered at Charles de Gaulle airport and agreed to continue the walkout, despite an appeal by the transport minister to keep talking. The agreement came overnight.

Only one in four Air France planes was flying Tuesday, and other carriers were cashing in on their labor woes. British Airways estimated it was bringing in an additional $1.6 million daily as a result of the Air France strike.

 

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)


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Updated Wednesday, June 10, 1998
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