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British Airways Crew Plan Strike

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NYTimes: British Airways PLC cabin crew plan to strike for a total of seven days this month, potentially disrupting thousands of travellers ahead of Easter holidays, after talks with management over changes to pay and working conditions broke down.

Unite, the union representing around 30,000 cabin crew at the airline, said Friday that workers will walk out for three days from March 20 and another four days from March 27.

Unite assistant general secretary Len McCluskey added that a new offer made by BA on Thursday would be put to a vote by workers and the strike action would be called off if they approved.

However, he said the carrier's offer fell short of union demands and leaders would not be recommending a favorable vote.

BA said it was ''extremely disappointed'' at the union's decision, saying it would cause massive disruption for hundreds of thousands of travelers in the run-up to the Easter holidays.

The airline has been training around 1,000 workers from other departments at the airline to stand in for cabin crew in the event of a walkout.

It said Friday that it was also working to obtain seats on flights operated by rival airlines to pass on to its own customers.

''Should a strike take place, we will do everything we can to protect our customers' travel plans as far as possible,'' the airline said in a statement.

BA added that it planned to operate all flights from London City airport, including long-haul services to New York. From Gatwick, it plans to operate all long-haul services and about 50 percent of short-haul. From Heathrow, it plans to operate a ''substantial part'' of both long-haul and short-haul schedules.

Unite stuck by a pledge not to hold a strike over the busy Easter period, after a thwarted walkout over the Christmas and New Year break resulted in a public backlash against workers, but McCluskey said further action would take place after April 14 if the dispute is not resolved.

BA won a court order stopping the planned Christmas strike on a technicality over irregularities in the union's balloting of workers on the walkout.

The union and management returned to the negotiating table this year, but broke off talks on Thursday after failing to agree on a solution.

Workers are unhappy about changes to staffing and pay, including a pay freeze in 2010, a switch to part-time work for 3,000 staff and a reduction in cabin crew sizes from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights from Heathrow airport.

''We feel we have been forced into this by the company,'' said McCluskey, adding that he believed every time negotiators made headway, BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh or other senior managers would make ''public statements designed to inflame the situation.''

BA argues the plans are necessary to ride out its dire financial situation -- the carrier has been one of the airlines hardest hit by the global recession because of its heavy running costs and reliance on increasingly unpopular premium fares.

BA said Friday it is facing two years of record financial losses after posting an operating loss of 86 million pounds ($130 million) for the first nine months of the current financial year, compared to a profit of 89 million pounds a year earlier.

''Unlike other businesses, we have avoided compulsory redundancies and made changes designed to secure a long-term future for our company and our staff,'' it said in a statement. ''Cabin crew face no pay cut or reduction in terms and conditions and remain the best rewarded in the U.K. airline industry.''

Unite has warned that the airline's decision to train pilots, baggage handlers and engineers in cabin crew duties will put BA's passengers' at risk in emergency situations. The union said that a 21-day fast track training program is no substitute for the minimum three-month course given to permanent cabin crew.

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