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Tweets, protests derail BA strike talks

By the CNN Wire Staff
BA CEO Willie Walsh expresses his displeasure at tweets during negotiations with unions on BBC's "Andrew Marr Show."
BA CEO Willie Walsh expresses his displeasure at tweets during negotiations with unions on BBC's "Andrew Marr Show."
  • NEW Strike started at midnight (7 p.m. ET) and will last five days
  • Cabin crew's union says no deal has been reached
  • Talks between BA and union broken up by protest
  • Airline says it's putting contingency plan into operation to keep planes flying

London, England (CNN) -- British Airways cabin crew are now on strike, Unite union spokeswoman Pauline Doyle told CNN, after BA and union officials failed to reach a deal Sunday.

The airline is willing to continue talks, a representative said: "We remain available for talks with Unite. As it stands, all our efforts are directed towards contingency planning for our customers on the first day of strikes starting tomorrow."

British Airways cabin crew plan to strike for five days from midnight (7 p.m. ET) Sunday. Two other strikes are scheduled soon afterward, all part of the union's long-running dispute with BA over pay and working conditions.

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Unite joint secretary Tony Woodley offered Sunday to call off the strike if the airline would reinstate travel perks for staff.

"Turn around and reinstate our people's travel... and this union will call off tonight's strike and suspend the action to allow us to conclude the progress we were making yesterday before we were so rudely interrupted," he said, addressing BA chief executive Willie Walsh directly on live television.

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Negotiations came to a halt Saturday after protesters stormed the building where negotiations were being held, a BA spokesman said.

The talks had been ongoing for five hours, the spokesman said.

Police were forced to escort Walsh away from the scene, he said.

Walsh Sunday blamed Twitter messages from Unite joint leader Derek Simpson for the disruption of the meeting.

"He was sitting opposite me and he did have his BlackBerry out," Walsh told the BBC. "I thought he was responding to an e-mail or a text message, but when I found out that he was actually sending his version of events to the wider audience, that really did undermine my confidence in their desire to settle this issue."

He said he was "shocked and angry" about the Twitter messages.

Simpson posted about eight times on the microblogging site during the meeting, his account shows.

He later condemned the disruption of the talks and said no union members were involved -- also on Twitter.

And, he tweeted, "If I have to apologise to Willy (sic) over twittering then I shall .... But I am not afraid of saying what is really going on ....."

Turn around and reinstate our people's travel... and this union will call off tonight's strike.
--Tony Woodley, Unite

The two sides were meeting at the central London headquarters of ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, when a crowd of demonstrators broke in and disrupted proceedings.

"No one was injured and the parties left the building safely but ACAS regrets that, as host to the parties, such an incident should have occurred," the group's Chief Executive John Taylor said.

The Unite union, which represents almost all of BA's 15,000 cabin crew members, went on strike over the issues twice in March, grounding flights and causing travel chaos for thousands of passengers across the globe.

BA's reputation in a tailspin

Talks since then have failed to resolve the dispute, leading Unite to call the strikes this month and next.

Unite initially planned a series of four strikes, with the first one to have started May 18, but BA won an injunction that halted them. Unite won an appeal against the injunction a few days later and vowed the remaining three strikes would continue as planned.

BA has said it will implement contingency plans that will allow it to fly more than 70 percent of its customers during the first strike. It plans to operate all flights from Gatwick and London City Airports and more than half of its schedule from Heathrow, its main hub.

CNN's Bharati Naik, Hilary Whiteman and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.