* 70.4 pct of votes favored deal
* Will pursue joint deal with Continental flight attendants
Feb 28 Members of the flight attendants union at United Airlines have ratified a labor deal that guarantees a 10 percent wage hike and puts flight attendants at United and its merger partner Continental Airlines in position to begin talks on a contract covering both groups, the union said on Tuesday.
United and Continental closed their $3.17 billion merger in 2010, forming the world's largest airline, known as United Airlines and owned by United Continental Holdings Inc. One of the biggest obstacles to a complete merger has been the integration of two work forces with joint contracts.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) said the deal with United Airlines puts the airline "one step closer" to completing the merger.
"This agreement is good for flight attendants and good for the company. It addresses many immediate needs identified by United flight attendants and serves as a stepping-stone to single contract negotiations with our flying partners from Continental and Continental Micronesia," Greg Davidowitch, president of AFA at United Airlines, said in a statement.
AFA said 88.5 percent of its eligible members participated in the vote, and 70.4 percent cast ballots in favor of the deal.
The newly ratified contract covers 15,000 workers and includes the pay raise, job security protections and distribution of a signing bonus of $5,000 per attendant.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us and look forward to productive discussions with the AFA," said Sam Risoli, senior vice president of Inflight for United.
Flight attendants on the Continental side also are represented by the AFA union and already have a labor deal.
United Continental is in talks with its other unions. The company's two pilot groups are negotiating a joint deal, as are the ramp and fleet service groups, the dispatchers and the mechanics. The reservations and customer service workers are holding an election to determine union representation.
Share of United Continental were up 41 cents at $20.48 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday afternoon.
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