Flight attendants at United Airlines aren’t up in the air about how they’ll respond to looming pension cuts. They have put in place a strategic strike strategy as a showdown with the airline approaches.

United management is asking a bankruptcy judge to terminate the flight attendants’ pension plan, along with those of three other groups of United employees. All pension plan assets would then be turned over to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which would pay retirees benefits that would be reduced by as much as 40 percent.

United could eventually emerge from bankruptcy without its obligations to its long-term employees, but the employees would emerge without the pensions they had worked for during decades of service.

According to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the workers’ right to strike will be triggered if the company abrogates a portion of the collective bargaining agreement and terminates the pension.

The potential work actions could start May 10 after the company’s motion to terminate the pension comes before the bankruptcy judge. Then, according to AFA spokesperson Sara Nelson Dela Cruz, CHAOS could break out. CHAOS — which stands for Create Havoc Around Our System — is the AFA’s tactic of surprise intermittent strikes. “CHAOS could take the form of a system-wide one-day strike, a strike targeted for one specific city or an individual flight at a remote location,” she said. A network of strike leaders have activated local strike machinery across the U.S, and throughout Europe and Asia.

Dela Cruz, herself a working flight attendant, said her co-workers are “furious” at United’s assault on their pensions. “United won’t have to reinstate discriminatory practices — this will have the same effect,” she said in recounting a 40-year struggle by the women who pioneered these jobs to make them into professional career jobs. “We started this job with discriminatory practices,” she said. “We were required to quit when we reached our early 30s; we couldn’t be married; we had to step on a weight scale to get on a plane.” Dela Cruz said that building a solid pension plan was “part of making our job a lifetime career that people could be proud of with a dignified retirement.”

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