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Germany Agrees to Negotiate with Strikers Again

By Tamara Jones
Los Angeles Times

BONN, Germany

Faced with widening strikes that began to disrupt international air traffic, the German government Monday agreed to reopen negotiations with public workers in hopes of ending the country's worst postwar labor dispute.

The Interior Ministry announced that it would sweeten its offer of 4.8 percent pay hikes when both sides meet Wednesday in Stuttgart.

No new figure was disclosed, but the union previously had approved a mediator's compromise of 5.4 percent, which the government rejected last month, citing the soaring costs of German unification as the reason.

However, the prospect of new talks did not prompt the union to call off a potentially paralyzing walkout scheduled for Tuesday at continental Europe's busiest airport.

Ground personnel and firefighters at Frankfurt International were expected to join colleagues who shut down or crippled several airports across Germany Monday.

Thousands of disgruntled passengers were bused to airports in Amsterdam or Brussels for rerouting. In Berlin, flights were detoured through Schoenefeld Airport in the formerly Communist eastern sector, which was not striking.

The national airline Lufthansa said Monday's action resulted in more than 200 canceled flights affecting more than 15,000 passengers.

Frankfurt's airport, one of the busiest in the world, handles approximately 30 million passengers pass through each year.

The union claimed that more than 200,000 employees were taking part in the scattered strikes this week -- double the number who launched the walkouts eight days ago.

The strike has disrupted mail delivery, trash collection, and public transportation in the western part of the country.

Eastern Germans negotiate separately and are not officially part of the strike, although transportation workers in eastern Berlin joined Monday's stoppages as a show of solidarity.

Health officials have reported no serious sanitation problems yet as garbage begins to pile up on Germany's normally pristine sidewalks.

"We're not talking trash mountains yet," said a Hamburg city health official who declined to be identified. "There are some spots in town that smell, but it doesn't have anything to do with the strikes.

"If it goes another week, we could have real problems," the official added in a telephone interview.

"But we're a port city, so we have plenty of experience with rats. Our rat-catchers are ready."