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Union representatives for USAir's 6,000 pilots have accepted a proposed contract, ending 17 months of negotiations with the carrier.

Elected members of the Air Line Pilots Association met for 10 hours at a hotel here Thursday before ratifying the contract, the first for the combined pilot staffs of USAir and Piedmont Airlines.

ALPA spokesman Chris Beebe said the contract provides slightly better pay for junior pilots, improved retirement benefits for pilots who were with USAir before the merger with Piedmont, and strengthened language to prevent USAir from hiring pilots at lower pay to fly some classes of airplanes.

But Beebe said USAir gave little ground on many of the contract issues.

"I'd say we are not overjoyed, but we are comfortable with the contract," he said.

The contract comes a day after USAir reported a $63 million loss for 1989, including a surprising $102 million loss in the fourth quarter.

USAir Chairman Edwin Colodny told industry analysts last week that concluding negotiations with several labor groups is a top priority for USAir in 1990.

The carrier still is negotiating with two unions representing its flight attendants and mechanics. Baggage handlers conclude a vote Jan. 31 on whether to continue representation by the Teamsters union.

Analysts agree the airline needs to get on to other business.

"The hope of the (union leaders) is to now work with the company to help make this the profitable, dependable and customer airline we all hope it will be," Beebe said.

The union representatives voted 15-12 to accept the contract, but Beebe said the group decided against sending the contract to a vote of its at-large membership. The union had the option of ratifying the contract itself.

Pilots who had been with USAir had been without a contract since August 1988. Former Piedmont pilots' contract ran out in October 1989.

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