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USAir and its machinists union reached a tentative agreement Thursday on a contract that should end a strike neither side wanted.

The strike, which began Monday, caused the cancellations of hundreds of flights throughout the country, including 13 of 26 daily jet departures out of Piedmont Triad International Airport.USAir could be back on a normal schedule Monday if the agreement is approved this weekend by the 8,300 members of the International Association of Machinists. But union members will continue to walk the picket line until the new contract is ratified, said Kirk Bullock, a strike captain with the union's Piedmont Triad local.

``Our union has a history of following their leadership,' he said. ``If they say it's a good deal, we'll probably buy it.'

Union negotiator Bill Scheri said a yes vote is being recommended.

Seth E. Schofield, USAir's chief executive officer, said the tentative agreement is ``fair and equitable.'

``We achieved our goal of reducing costs for both the near and long term,' Schofield said.

The airline appeared to make key concessions, including a job security commitment and promise of a future raise if members accept a 3.5 percent wage cut now.

The strike could have been disastrous for an airline that has lost money heavily the past two years. Industry analysts wondered how long it could hold out.

Machinists walking the picket line at Piedmont Triad International Airport said they felt compelled to strike because of what they considered onerous conditions proposed by the company. But, they acknowledged, they were concerned that the strike could force the company into bankruptcy.

Mechanic Don Stevens, a 31-year veteran with USAir and the old Piedmont Airlines, said walking off the job wasn't easy.

``You put your job on the line, and it really starts bugging you.' National Mediation Board Chairman Kimberly Madigan said the tentative agreement between USAir and the Machinists was reached at 11:30 a.m. EDT after nearly 24 hours of talks, most of them in a nearly non-stop marathon session. USAir stock rose 87 1/2 cents on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday to finish at $12.50 per share.\


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