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United Is Closer to Employee Ownership

A DEAL that would make United Airlines the biggest employee-owned company in the nation has won approval from United's ground crews.

The agreement still must get the backing of pilots and shareholders, however.

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On Wednesday, the 28,200 ground-crew workers represented by the Machinists union approved the plan 56 percent to 44 percent.

Under the proposed deal, United's 60,000 United States employees - union and nonunion - would get 53 percent of the stock in exchange for about $5 billion in wage and benefit cuts and rule changes.

Leaders of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association were expected to vote Thursday or Friday. Ratification by members of the pilots' union is not required under its rules. But the leadership has polled the union's 8,000 pilots.

Some pilots contend that the deal would cut their wages and benefits too deeply and set a precedent for lower wages in the airline industry.

The deal is also subject to approval by UAL Corp., the airline's parent. Assuming ratification by the pilots, the proposal would then be brought to the UAL shareholders, a process that is likely to take three more months.

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