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US Air, American Airlines workers rally in support of merger

Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, speaks at a rally for the merger of US Airways and the American Airlines. Pastor urged the Justice Department to back off the antitrust suit it filed in an effort to block the merger. (Cronkite News Service photo by Brandon Brown)

WASHINGTON -- US Airways and American Airlines workers from 30 states rallied on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, urging Congress to block a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against the planned merger of the two airlines.

Hundreds of pilots, flight attendants and other airline workers gathered on the Capitol lawn, chanting and holding signs that read, "Let us compete together."

"We're here to drum up support," said Jennifer Hutt, a Phoenix-based flight attendant and flight attendant trainer for US Airways.

Workers like Hutt spread out across the Hill to talk with lawmakers. A US Airways spokeswoman said the airlines' employees expected to visit the offices of all 11 members of Arizona's delegation, but could not say which were talked to personally.

The long-discussed merger of Tempe-based US Airways and Fort Worth-based American Airlines, currently in bankruptcy, would create the nation's largest airline.

The new company would be called American Airlines and would be based in Fort Worth, but US Airways officials have insisted they will maintain a strong presence in Tempe and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Airline officials have said the merger would actually be good for competition.

But the Justice Department in August sued to block the merger, saying it would reduce competition and drive up prices for consumers. The antitrust suit was joined by attorneys general from many states, including Arizona.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but had said in an August statement that the merger would be bad for consumers and workers in Arizona.

Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, has long said the merger will do nothing but hurt consumers. In Arizona, for example, he said the merger would leave Southwest Airlines as the top airline at Sky Harbor, which will be good for Southwest, but not for the state's economy.

Leocha said the merger would give "executives a pay raise, unions a pay raise, and the consumers will lose."

But Hutt said it is not fair that the Justice Department is getting involved now, after letting mergers of Delta and Northwest airlines or United and Continental go through.

Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, told the rally that he usually agrees with the Obama administration, but was surprised when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed this antitrust lawsuit.

"I've supported U.S. Attorney Holder and the majority of his attempts," Pastor said. "But I got to tell you, on this one he's wrong."

He encouraged Holder to meet with leaders of both airlines and negotiate a settlement before a scheduled Nov. 25 hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

If the government will get out of the way, this merger will not only be good but relatively easy, said Stacy Santimaw, a US Airways flight attendant based in Phoenix.

Santimaw started her career 30 years ago with America West Airlines, which merged with US Airways in 2005. That merger took a long time because the unions and employee associations could not agree on labor issues.

"They learned from their mistakes and have already agreed on a lot of the issues," Santimaw said of the current proposal.

"I've been through one bankruptcy, one merger, and we feel this merger will be much smoother," she said.

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