• Union says pilots vote for multiday walkout, provides no dates
  • France is scheduled to host UEFA championship June 10-July 10

Air France’s pilots are escalating a long-running contract dispute by threatening to disrupt travel with an extended strike just as France prepares to host the European soccer championship that starts in mid-June.

The French airline’s main pilot union, the SNPL, said 68 percent of those participating in a work-stoppage ballot voted Monday in favor of a walkout exceeding six days to protest the airline’s plans to cut pay. Of the carrier’s 3,600 pilots, 2,500 belong to the SNPL.

The SNPL didn’t specify any dates for a strike, and talks in the dispute continue. The UEFA European Championship is scheduled to take place in France from June 10 through July 10. The conflict is reminiscent of a dispute in 1998, when pilots at the airline halted work for eight days just ahead of the World Cup soccer tournament in France. The carrier declined to comment on Monday’s vote, beyond estimating that 1,360 pilots might take part in a walkout.

France was chosen as this year’s European Cup host nation in May 2010, beating bids by Italy and Turkey. The matches will be played in 10 cities including Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Paris.

The eight-day strike in 1998 by more than 3,000 pilots ended only hours before the World Cup games began, forcing Air France to cancel most flights for several days. That walkout was to protest management’s plan to cut wages in a spending-reduction drive aimed at making the state-owned airline attractive to investors in advance of an initial public offering. The dispute was settled later that year, when pilots agreed to a choice of stock options and shares in exchange for lower pay and a seven-year wage freeze.

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