Aloha cargo in limbo as negotiations go on
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Talks between Aloha Airlines and its pilots union were going down to the wire yesterday in a labor dispute that could disrupt 85 percent of the state's air cargo business and U.S. mail delivery to Maui and the Big Island.
Although cargo flights remained operating, the company said it was due to run out of money yesterday without a further cash infusion from its lender.
Both the Air Line Pilots Association and the company vowed to negotiate throughout the night, if necessary. A hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today to reassess the pilot situation and the company's cash position.
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A labor dispute affecting much of the state's interisland air cargo and U.S. mail traffic came closer to the edge yesterday as Aloha Airlines and its pilots union remained locked in negotiations.
Cargo flights remained operating, but with the company's money expected to run out by yesterday's end, the two sides vowed to negotiate throughout the night -- if necessary -- to reach a resolution.
A hearing has been scheduled for 9:30 this morning to reassess the pilot talks and the company's cash position. Aloha's primary lender, General Motors Acceptance Corp., has said it will not put any additional funds into the company unless the pilot issue is settled.
Aloha delivers all the mail to Maui and the Big Island, and U.S. Postal Service spokesman Duke Gonzales said yesterday that the mail service has no fallback plans to get mail to and from those islands if Aloha's cargo operation shuts down.
"We still do have an agreement or contract with Aloha," he said. "Until any type of change is made, we are not going to go out and seek another bidder."
Gonzales added, "If any changes occur we are going to try to respond as quickly as we can."
In talks that federal Bankruptcy Judge Lloyd King referred to last week as a "game of chicken," King reiterated his intention yesterday "to continue to stay out of things."
Aloha labor attorney Sheldon Kline said progress was being made in the talks, but "we're not quite there yet."
However, Air Line Pilots Association attorney James Linsey repeatedly called Aloha management "gratuitous" and blasted the company for actions it has taken to make it more difficult for pilots to attend collective-bargaining talks or a special job fair that is being held today for Aloha pilots at the Honolulu Country Club.
Among those actions, he said, are pulling "the plug" on cockpit travel for the Aloha pilots by shutting down a computer system that is necessary to verify identification, and asking for Aloha pilots to turn in their ID badges no later than today.
Linsey said Aloha pilots have been invited by other airlines, such as Hawaiian Airlines and Continental Airlines, to travel in their cockpits so they can perform collective-bargaining functions and also apply for jobs. David Bird, chairman of Aloha's ALPA unit, had to buy a ticket on Hawaiian yesterday from Kona to attend a collective-bargaining session in Honolulu, Linsey said.
Linsey also said Aloha has made it difficult for pilots to attend today's job fair in Honolulu that is being conducted by such global carriers as Qantas and All Nippon Airways.
Kline said taking away security clearance and IDs is "typical in the airline industry when employees get furloughed."
But Linsey repeated his claim that the actions are "gratuitous."
"It's like poking a stick in the eye of someone that you're negotiating with," he said.
Aloha spokesman Stu Glauberman said the company had no comment.
Linsey also questioned why a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by the company against ALPA remains active. The company filed the motion last week over fears of a disruption from cargo pilots after Aloha abruptly shut down passenger operations.
"ALPA has committed to do everything humanly possible to continue that operation uninterrupted," Linsey said.
Kline responded that the company "simply wanted to keep it on the docket for obvious reasons."
The union has been at odds with Aloha over seniority rights for flying the cargo planes, furlough pay, medical coverage and job-search expenses.
ALPA has said it wants rights to fly the cargo routes determined by seniority, according to the collective-bargaining agreement, so that senior passenger pilots -- terminated when Aloha stopped passenger service -- could bump less senior cargo pilots. There are 37 Aloha cargo pilots scheduled to fly this month. The company had more than 300 pilots before the shutdown of passenger operations.
Star-Bulletin staff writer Jennifer Sudick contributed to this story.