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Iberia strike disrupts travel to Spain

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Thousands of Iberia union workers went on strike Monday to protest the impending layoff of more than 3,800 employees of the Spanish airline, causing flight cancellations throughout Spain.

Riot police were called upon to keep protesters from blocking entrances to Terminal 4 at Madrid-Barajas international airport and some demonstrators were beaten with clubs, according to Reuters. Police evicted some workers from the building and made at least five arrests. Media reports on the size of the demonstration varied from 2,000 to 8,000 workers.

The airline cancelled more than 80 flights on the first day of a planned five-day work stoppage. An airline spokesman said 415 Iberia flights have been cancelled through Friday, representing 39 percent of scheduled operations. Most of the cancellations involve Spanish domestic flights, the spokesman said. Only about 10 percent of international flights were expected to be scrubbed.

A check of flights departing Monday from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago found Iberia Flight 6274 — scheduled to depart at 4:45 p.m. for Madrid — still scheduled to depart on-time.

A press notice on the Iberia website said the company has found alternate flights for 70,000 passengers whose flights this week were cancelled. As of 8:30 p.m. local time in Madrid, the company reported that 109 flights of the 135 scheduled for today had taken off, “in keeping with the minimum services required by law during the strike by airline employees.”

The striking workers represent ground staff and flight attendants for Iberia, which merged with British Airways in 2011 to form International Airlines Group (IAG). While British Airways showed a profit of €286 million ($382 million) for the first nine months of 2012, Iberia lost €262 million ($350 million) during the same time period. The New York Times reported that Iberia is “currently burning through” $2.7 million per day.

Last month, the union rejected a company offer to limit staff reductions to 3,100 if workers would accept a cut in wages ranging from 11 to 23 percent, so the company announced it would proceed with trimming 3,807 jobs in the next month. The union responded with plans for three work stoppages of five days each. The others are planned for March 4-8 and March 18-22. Pilots are expected to join the strike on March 4, according to the New York Times.