American Airlines "can't afford to sweeten the deal" rejected last month by mechanics and clerks, a top executive said Thursday. With the highest labor costs in the industry, American is seeking to wrest more productivity in exchange for greater compensation, while the union wants a return to the wages and benefits given up in 2003 when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. "At the end of the day, our cost structure is going to have to be competitive," said Jeff Brundage, American's senior vice president for human resources, noting that the company may reshuffle elements of the rejected contract without increasing its overall cost.

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