Thursday, April 07, 2011

Searching For My New Team

US Airways bringing 200 jobs to Winston-Salem center
By Richard Craver

US Airways Group Inc. said it is bringing as many as 200 reservation-center jobs to Winston-Salem, offering promising news for job-seekers struggling through a 10.3 percent Triad unemployment rate.

The new hires include 60 workers brought on in March, and another 60 will come on board if they complete training that began Monday. Starting pay for the jobs is $9.96 an hour.

The jobs are returning to the Hanes Mall Boulevard center — as well as to centers in Phoenix and Reno, Nev. — as part of the airline's collective-bargaining agreement with its unions.

It was required to return all reservation sales and service calls originating in the U.S. to domestic call centers by October. The Winston-Salem center operates around the clock, primarily handling specialty domestic calls.

The jobs are not all new positions, said Vonda Hardy, the president of Communications Workers of America Local 3640, which represents the center's workers. The center has lost some union employees in recent months because of attrition, retirement, health issues and workers being let go.

"Being a reservation agent is a very hard job, and some people left to pursue other employment," Hardy said Wednesday. "It truly is a job where you are accountable for every second you are at work."

In December, the airline approached the Winston-Salem City Council for a one-time incentive of up to $29,250 in return for pledging to add up to 200 jobs.

The council approved the request but has not paid any of the incentive, said Derwick Paige, a deputy city manager.

Mayor Allen Joines said, "The city worked hard on this project and is delighted that US Airways chose Winston-Salem as a site to bring back these jobs."

The airline said in December that it had 757 jobs overall at the center, including union and nonunion employees.

Hardy said the workforce represented by the union has dwindled to 600 — down about 30 from 15 months earlier. Some of those employees have left since December, she said. Some non-union management and administrative employees were hired in recent months, she said.

Joines said the airline remains eligible for at least a portion of the incentives based on a net gain of jobs at the center.

The airline has added 60 employees from training sessions that took place in March. Some of those workers are former American Express employees in Greensboro, Hardy said. American Express said Jan. 19 that it was closing its call center by year's end, with an expected loss of about 1,500 regional jobs.

US Airways expects to get another 60 employees from a second round of training that began Monday. It plans to conduct training in July, August and September.

The starting pay for the new jobs is about $20,717 a year, Hardy said. The $9.96 hourly rate represents a 62-cent increase from the current wage.

She said employees get two weeks of vacation and one week of holiday pay, and they qualify for health insurance from day one. As part of the union contract, new hires will get two weeks of holiday pay beginning in 2012.

Forsyth County officials chose not to offer incentives to US Airways because the proposed salaries for the jobs aren't high enough. The county has a guideline that says companies should pay at least $10 an hour to be considered for economic incentives.

A per-job incentive package was offered to US Airways in 2005 when it was considering consolidating its two main reservation centers in Winston-Salem or Pittsburgh. The company collected a small amount in incentives for those jobs.

The center has been one of the city's larger private employers for more than 10 years, including mechanical and other back-office jobs. However, the airline's local workforce has fluctuated sharply over the past nine years.

Since August 2002, US Airways has been through two bankruptcies. It was bought by America West Holdings Corp. in 2006.

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