Hawaiian Airlines announced a breakthrough in its labor negotiations late yesterday, saying it has reached a tentative agreement with the first of five unions that the carrier needs to forge contracts with to come out of bankruptcy.
The three-year deal with the Transport Workers Union, which represents 26 dispatchers, still needs to be ratified by the members, who are responsible for making flight plans. The contract calls for Hawaiian's costs to stay the same for the next three years.
"The TWU agreement is an important first step," said Hawaiian Airlines trustee Joshua Gotbaum. The airline needs agreements with each of its unions to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
The dispatchers' union was the only one of Hawaiian's unions to not agree to any concessions early last year just before the company filed for bankruptcy. The other four unions, which represent the pilots, flight attendants, machinists and computer workers, gave back a combined $15 million in concessions in 2003.
Dave Durkin, president of TWU Local 540, said the deal includes a universal benefit plan and profit sharing. He said he couldn't disclose any information about the contract's effect on wages until the agreement is presented to members today.
"We've been talking to the company for the last year and a half since the bankruptcy, so basically we had set up a lot of the parameters ahead, and today we were able to reach an agreement," Durkin said.
Meanwhile, the Air Line Pilots Association's Hawaiian Airlines unit is planning an informational picket at Honolulu Airport's interisland terminal today to protest its unhappiness with the company's union demands.
"Our concern is they're using the bankruptcy process to really unfairly influence the regular contract negotiations process," said pilot Jim Giddings, a union spokesman.
Randy Kauhane, assistant general chairman of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 141, said his union was going to meet with the company on Nov. 29 to begin discussions. Sharon Soper, president of the Association of Flight Attendants' unit for Hawaiian Airlines, said her group plans to talk with Hawaiian next month.
"They say they want the flight attendants to offset somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 million," she said. "Yet, Hawaiian is more profitable than it has been in the whole history of the airline."
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
McWayne Kahumoku, Hawaiian Airlines senior manager, left, Brian Sabog, flight attendant, Kehau Gerona, flight attendant, and Georgienette K. Kondo from accounting celebrated the carrier's 75th birthday yesterday at Honolulu Airport. There were roving musicians, keiki hula dancers and 10,000 fresh flower leis given to customers.
Meanwhile, the company marked its 75th anniversary yesterday with a festive ceremony in the airport ticketing lobby. The festivities -- a Hawaiian blessing, hula dancers, an ukulele band and a large birthday cake -- were timed to occur 75 years to the minute after Hawaii's first scheduled passenger air service began.
"What Hawaiian Airlines wants -- and what its employees want -- is fair contracts that can help Hawaiian Airlines get out of bankruptcy and stay out of bankruptcy," Gotbaum said. "That's what we all want and that's what we expect to get."
The pilots' union contends that a reorganization proposal for the carrier seeks steep cuts in employees' retirement and disability benefits and also looks for areas where more jobs can be cut.
"The plan ... provides full value return to the creditors and the shareholders and at the same time demands steep concessions from the employees," Giddings said. "That was a substantial sacrifice on our part and apparently it's not good enough for them."
Giddings said management has presented the union with a Dec. 15 deadline to agree on a new contract, or it will to try and have the current contract rejected by the bankruptcy court.
If that happens, "we have the right to strike," Giddings said. "We want to avoid that ... but the company needs to be understanding of our needs as well."
Gotbaum did not comment on the contract specifics but said the airline did not expect to lay off any employees after it emerges from bankruptcy.
Star-Bulletin writer Dave Segal and the Associated Press contributed to this report