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Gov’t Seizes Mexico’s Top Airline

June 1, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The government took over operations of Mexico’s largest airline today after 1,033 unionized flight attendants walked off the job.

Members of the Unionized Association of Flight Attendants went on strike at midnight, saying Aeromexico was unwilling to negotiate better working conditions and benefits.

The government, saying national security was at state, seized Aviacion de Mexico, which runs Mexico’s largest airline, and appointed an acting general administrator for the duration of the strike.

``This action was necessary to guarantee that people have transportation, and also because many areas of our economy depend on air transportation and we would have huge economic losses″ if the flights were all grounded, a secretariat official said on condition of anonymity.

Under Mexico’s constitution, the government can temporarily seize companies considered vital to the nation’s economy or security so that they can continue to operate during emergencies.

Thousands of passengers were left in limbo, as the secretariat official conceded that most of Aeromexico’s 300 daily flights wouldn’t leave the ground.

The government planned to fly as many planes as possible with Aeromexico’s 300 nonunionized flight attendants, and said 12 airlines that have agreements with Aeromexico would reschedule some of the passengers.

If the strike drags on, he said, the government will train new flight attendants.

The union said Aeromexico wasn’t negotiating in good faith.

``The company doesn’t want to continue negotiating,″ said Lizette Clavel, press secretary for the union. ``We’re treated as third-class workers.″

Aeromexico accused the flight attendants of making unreasonable demands, calling them ``out of the range of other airlines″ and saying meeting them would cripple the airline.

``This would prevent us from having the capital we need to buy planes and to expand,″ said General Director Alfonso Pasquel Barcenas. ``We can’t put into risk our viability as a profitable company.″

The difference over salaries was small: Flight attendants said they want a 19 percent raise while Aeromexico said it was offering 18 percent. The real conflict was over benefits and working conditions.

Aeromexico wants to increase each shift by two hours and reduce by two hours the time between shifts, which currently range from eight to 14 hours.

The flight attendants want a pension plan, which they don’t currently have, better health benefits and guarantees that flight crews will be complete. The union says many Aeromexico flights take off with fewer than the normal number of flight attendants.

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