Business & Finance

Delta Air Lines and its pilots' union were pursuing an "interim agreement" to avoid a mass retirement by senior flyers that could jeopardize the carrier's future, The Wall Street Journal reported. Many cockpit veterans are expected to retire early next month as Delta presses for more than $1 billion that it says it needs in givebacks from unionized employees. Although the Air Line Pilots Association has rebuffed the idea of bringing back retired pilots as private contractors, it may consider letting newly retired pilots serve temporarily until replacements can be trained, the Journal said.

Investors in Alitalia boosted that struggling airline's share price by another 9 percent in early trading Wednesday after unionized pilots agreed to accept a pay cut and to double the number of hours they work per year. In exchange, the almost-bankrupt Italian carrier compromised on its plan to lay off 450 pilots. Instead, 289 will lose their jobs, although about 100 others are expected to accept early retirement. Alitalia's stock price closed 15 percent higher Tuesday as it became clear that the company and negotiators for its employee unions were working around the clock on chief executive Giancarlo Cimoli's restructuring plan. Cimoli had set a Wednesday deadline for union approval of the plan, on which hangs a government bailout. Without that, he says Alitalia has only enough cash left to remain in business until the end of the month.

The last obstacle to a $15.7 billion takeover of mortgage lender Abbey National PLC by Spain's largest bank, Santander Hispano SA, fell away as the only other potential suitor decided against bidding. HBOS PLC, Britain's fourth-largest bank, said it couldn't resolve the problem of "producing a fantastic deal for Abbey shareholders but one that didn't produce a very good deal for our shareholders." An Abbey-HBOS merger would have controlled one-third of Britain's $1.4 trillion mortgage market, Bloomberg.com reported.

The nation's high-tech job market shrank by 403,000 people, or 18.8 percent, between March 2001 and last April, results of a new survey found. The study by the University of Illinois-Chicago was conducted for the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a Seattle organization that seeks to unionize employees at Microsoft and other technology-based companies. Major factors cited for the slump: a hesitancy by employers to hire until the US economy is clearly back on track and the outsourcing of jobs overseas. But one analyst said he already detects improvement in the high-tech jobs picture and predicts an overall rebound as would-be employees develop different skill sets.

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