Aloha attendants ratify; pilots make progress
A judge delays a key ruling to allow further contract negotiations
WITH A federal judge poised to make a ruling that could decide Aloha Airlines' fate, the company and its pilots union asked yesterday for one more day to continue contract negotiations they say are showing progress.
"I hope the labor negotiators get no sleep," Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris said yesterday. He stressed that he already has a written ruling in hand on whether to let Aloha impose a new labor contract on the pilots.
Earlier in the day, Faris took the two sides to task for not reaching a compromise.
"You're playing a simultaneous game of Russian roulette with a twist, and that is you don't know how many bullets are in the gun," he said. "So with that, have a nice lunch."
Faris, who continued the hearing to 9 a.m. today, was going to make a decision yesterday on the company's motion to terminate the pilots' collective-bargaining agreement and defined-benefit plan. However, he postponed that decision because of a mutual request from the two parties. Faris also is due to rule today on a reorganization plan by two Los Angeles-based investors -- Yucaipa Cos. LLC and Aloha Aviation Investment Group -- that would bring the airline out of bankruptcy around Dec. 15.
Nearly overshadowed in the showdown between Aloha and its pilots was a vote by the airline's flight attendants to approve their new labor contract. Despite a low voting turnout of 59 percent of the approximately 400 flight attendants, 77.7 percent of those voting approved the deal that runs through April 2009. The vote was 178 in favor and 51 opposed.
"I expected a bigger voter turnout," said Peggy Gordon, president of Aloha's Association of Flight Attendants unit. "It was a major decision that affected everybody's future. A lot of people had a tough time making a decision."
David Banmiller, president and chief executive of Aloha, said he was pleased with the vote.
"It shows the continued dedication of the flight attendants group to take us through these tough times and emerge a much stronger company," Banmiller said.
Gordon said the flight attendants have given enough.
"This is the third time we're being asked to help the company stay alive," she said. "It better be the last."
The talks between the pilots and the company had an overflow courtroom crowd on edge yesterday as attorneys and spectators waited to see whether an agreement could be reached.
Aloha has said its only investors would walk and the airline would be forced to liquidate and put 3,500 employees out of work if the judge doesn't let the company terminate the pilots' contract. The pilots' union, on the other hand, said the company is obligated to honor a letter it signed previously that it wouldn't force the court to terminate the pilots' contract. The pilots have threatened to strike and shut down the airline if the judge doesn't rule in their favor.
Aloha attorney Paul Singerman, who declined to characterize the talks earlier in the day, came back after the first break and said the company and the union were "making progress" and asked for the adjournment until today.
Anthony Denzer, representative of the Aloha pilots, said the pension issue is still being discussed.
"There's still major issues, but there's motivation on both sides to reach a consensual agreement before a court decision," he said.
Banmiller said he hoped a resolution could be reached by this morning.