Hawaiian Air, pilots at odds


POSTED: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines' chief executive officer says the pilots union is “;mischaracterizing”; the company's contract offer, and the company called the possibility of a walkout “;not imminent”; despite the strike authorization vote pilots will begin taking today.

Mark Dunkerley, president and CEO of the state's largest carrier, said yesterday at an editorial board meeting at the Star-Bulletin that the company has offered its pilots a 20 percent increase over six years and an opportunity to participate in profit-sharing in exchange for modifying outdated work rules—such as how to bid for routes—that would make the company more competitive with its rivals.

“;We believe that a really important responsibility of management is to find a way to improve the standard of living for people who work for us,”; Dunkerley said. “;We believe that in a business that is as volatile as ours, it's important to safeguard ourselves for the bad times—and that means there'll be good times.

“;If you protect yourself by making sure you're economically viable for the worst of times, it does imply that you do have a surplus in good times. And we are committed to sharing that surplus with our employees so that they have a stake and a benefit from the company doing well.”;

The pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, are seeking a 17 percent increase over four years, plus a 2.5 increase to the pension plan for pilots under 50 years of age. The union said Hawaiian is only offering only a 1 percent increase for each of the four years—a total of 4 percent—with additional increases possible in exchange for give-backs in other areas.

The posturing and disputed offers by Hawaiian and ALPA follow four days of talks last week with federal mediators in Washington, D.C., in which the two sides made little progress toward ending 2 1/2 years of labor talks. The pilots plan informational picketing at the airport from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and said the strike authorization vote among its estimated 400 pilots will continue through Sept. 10.

“;As far as we're concerned, the progress (last week) was not sufficient to not take this next step,”; said Capt. Jeff Jones, the local spokesman for ALPA. “;So we need to put pressure on the company to get serious.”;

Hawaiian, which reached a two-year contract with its flight attendants, still is in negotiations with its mechanics, clerical workers and dispatchers.

A number of conditions would have to be met before a strike could be called. First, the National Mediation Board would need to declare an impasse; however, another round of mediation is scheduled for mid-October.

If an impasse eventually were declared, then the board would offer binding arbitration to both sides. If either side declined arbitration, a 30-day cooling-off period would begin. At the end of that period, if a Presidential Emergency Board were not appointed to act as arbiter, then the two sides would be free to act in their best interests.

ALPA said with Hawaiian purchasing at least 12 new Airbus aircraft, plus leasing three more, the now profitable airline will be in even better shape when the new planes begin arriving in April.

However, Dunkerley said Hawaiian's net profit of $79.6 million over the last 18 months represents only a 4 percent profit margin on its total revenue and that it has large capital expenditures coming up in the next several years.