US Airways/American Workers' Merger Blitz Is Unique, Expert Says

Tickers in this article: AAMRQ LCC

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Employees of US Airways and American blitzed Washington in support of a planned merger, which a veteran antitrust attorney said is unprecedented.

"Antitrust attorneys are always fond of saying that political pressure is never effective when it comes to mergers and antitrust, and that sometimes it can backfire," said John Briggs, a veteran Washington antitrust attorney, in an interview. Briggs is co-chair of Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider's Antitrust Group and managing partner of the firm's Washington, D.C. office.

"I've been doing this for four decades," Briggs said. "I've never seen the parties to a deal put together a rally on Capitol Hill. I've never heard of such a thing. They've got unions, companies, Democrats, Republicans -- it's bizarre.

"Will it make a difference? Maybe it could. It's got to make the Department of Justice uncomfortable. They're right down the street. The attorney general will know about it," he added.

James Ray, spokesman for the US Airline Pilots Association, said he was part of a group of union leaders that met with an undersecretary of labor. Laura Glading, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, was part of a group that met with Bill Baer, who heads the Justice Department's antitrust division. The department announced Aug. 13 that it will oppose the merger in a U.S. District Court case, now slated to be heard beginning Nov. 25.

On Wednesday afternoon, about 350 employees gathered for a rally outside the U.S. Capitol building. Five members of Congress from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas spoke in support of the merger, as did a half-dozen union leaders. "It was a beautiful day with perfect blue skies and all of us from two companies coming together with one goal in mind: Let us compete together," said US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr. "We were just getting our voices out there."

At the rally, Glading described a 45-minute meeting between union leaders, Baer, and a deputy attorney general. "We talked about why this merger makes sense for us. How invested these employees are. How for the first time we felt hope, and now this hope can be dashed," Glading said. "They were very very attentive, they asked a lot of questions, and I think it was a great opportunity for us to get our stories out, because it's our story that got us here today."

Besides the rally, employees called on members of Congress and the Senate. The goal was to call on every member. Ray said he was part of a four-member team that called on about 15 members of Congress over two days. Most meetings involved congressional staff, but U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R.-North Carolina, met with the group. "He is on board," Ray said.