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American Airlines Pilots Turn Up Heat on CEO

The president of the pilots' union at American Airlines ripped the company's chief executive in a letter that ended with a threat to "see you in court, in the newspapers, and on the picket line."

Lloyd Hill repeated his union's complaints about recent executive stock bonuses and accused management of cutting sick pay for pilots.

The letter was sent to Chief Executive Gerard Arpey last month. It was first reported Tuesday on the Web site of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

American, a unit of AMR Corp. , and the Allied Pilots Association are in the early stages of talks on a new contract to replace wage and benefit cuts approved in 2003, when American was nearly bankrupt.

In June, the union's previous leaders proposed a 30.5 percent pay raise and 15 percent signing bonus. Hill has said they deserve more. Company officials say American's labor costs are the highest in the airline industry and must be limited in part by having pilots work more hours.

Federal law makes it difficult but not impossible for airline employees to go on strike. Hill's threat to see Arpey "on the picket line" could also refer to informational picketing at airports, which has been done before by American's pilots and flight attendants.

Hill's letter, also signed by two other union officials, came after the latest in a series of monthly meetings between company executives and leaders of the three major unions at American. The company shares financial data with union officials.

The labor leaders complained about $250 million in stock awards the past two years to several hundred managers -- "vast enrichment of AMR executives," they called it -- while ordinary workers haven't received profit-sharing.

The union officials also protested a change in sick-leave policy made last year. They said it was depriving pilots of sick pay or forcing them to return to work prematurely.

Airline spokeswoman Sue Gordon said an arbitrator upheld the new sick-leave policy. She said pilots who miss work for 30 days are asked but not required to tell the company's medical department about their illness or injury.

Gordon said the company viewed the union letter as part of the group's strategy for bargaining on a new contract.

"Heated rhetoric is a common thing you encounter during contract negotiations," she said.

Office to Close, But No Job Losses

In a cost-cutting measure, American also announced Wednesday that it will close a reservations office in Cincinnati that employs 450 people. However, the employees there will be offered jobs within American's Reservations group, either at one of the airline's other offices or through a company program that allows agents to work from home.

American said the landlord at the Cincinnati building recently told the company that the facility will be converted into a rental property. American said that consolidating the operations will result in an unspecified cost savings.

- Wire services contributed to this story.