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Pilots for American Airlines have denied a management charge that they staged a sick-in at the height of the Christmas travel period to protest the lack of a new contract, the Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday.

But the newspaper quoted officials of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American's 9,500 pilots, as conceding that employees could have acted on their own.

American spokesman Marty Heires told the newspaper that about 500 pilots called in sick over the weekend, well above the 250 to 300 expected during normal holiday operations.

"We have to assume there's some union activity here," Heires said.

AMR Corp.'s American and the APA have been negotiating for 14 months on a new contract, but the two sides remain far apart.

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