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United Mechanics Hike Strike Threat

The union representing mechanics at bankrupt United Airlines (search) Thursday said mechanics at seven other U.S. airlines have vowed to support their colleagues at United, "up to and including the right to strike."

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (search) said this week that United's mechanics were planning a strike in defense of their pension plans, which the carrier hopes to shift to government pension insurers. United, the No. 2 U.S. carrier, is a unit of UAL Corp. (search)

Thursday's AMFA announcement beefs up that threat, saying mechanics at Alaska Airlines (ALK), ATA Airlines, Horizon Airlines, Independence Airlines, Mesaba Airlines, Northwest Airlines (NWAC) and Southwest Airlines (LUV) would strike in sympathy with United's mechanics if a bankruptcy judge approves the pension shift.

"I am authorized to call for an immediate nationwide strike against United if modifications are made to our contract without the approval of the membership and have called strikes three times before on behalf of AMFA's members," AMFA National Director O.V. Delle-Femine said in a statement.

The airline, which has been in bankruptcy since December 2002, has said a strike under the circumstances would violate the Railway Labor Act and bankruptcy law.

"We have had to make difficult choices, but those actions have brought us to the point where the goal line for an exit from Chapter 11 is close," said UAL spokeswoman Jean Medina.

"We take negotiations seriously, and believe energies are better focused on reaching consensual agreements."

The AMFA's recent strike threat comes in response to news that United and the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corp (search) last month reached a settlement, clearing the way for the carrier to shed its four employee retirement plans.

The pension agency has said the difference between promised benefits and assets in the four United plans is $9.8 billion. The government will guarantee retirement benefits totaling $6.6 billion. A bankruptcy judge was expected to rule on the settlement on May 10.

United, battered along with the rest of the industry by soaring fuel costs and weak revenues, has said it needs to cut labor costs to emerge from Chapter 11 protection.

Voiding and replacing its pension plans would give United an average savings of $645 million a year for five years. United has said it remains open to suggestions that would keep the pension intact and still grant the airline the savings it needs.

Some union leaders have said they have offered workable alternatives that the airline has rejected.

United also faces a threat of intermittent strikes by its flight attendants if the carrier dumps the pensions on the PBGC.