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HAL pilots say yes to strike


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POSTED: Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines pilots have voted to authorize a strike, although no walkout is imminent.

The Air Line Pilots Association's Hawaiian Airlines unit said yesterday that 98 percent of the pilots who voted authorized a strike if contract talks do not result in a new collective bargaining agreement for the union's 400 members.

“;This vote should be a wake-up call to Hawaiian Airlines management,”; said Capt. Eric Sampson, chairman of the ALPA unit at Hawaiian Airlines. “;There has never been a strike in the 80-year history of our airline, and we don't want one now. But if that's what it takes to win a fair and reasonable contract, our pilots have told us loud and clear that they're ready to take that final step.”;

In response to the union's announcement, the airline issued a two-sentence statement: “;This vote has no effect on Hawaiian's operations. Progress has been made in negotiations and another round of mediated discussions is scheduled for October.”;

Contract talks run by a federal mediator are planned to continue Oct. 12 in Washington, D.C. The two sides met this week in Honolulu without a mediator present and could do so again before the October session, the union said.

It is common for airline unions to authorize a strike during negotiations. However, federal labor rules say they can't actually walk off the job unless they're released by the mediator, something that rarely happens in airline talks.

If an impasse eventually were declared, then the National Mediation 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.

Negotiations have been going on for more than two years.

The pilots' current contract was negotiated in 2005 before Hawaiian emerged from bankruptcy in June of that year.

Mark Dunkerley, president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian, recently said the company had 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a 20 percent increase over six years and an opportunity to participate in profit-sharing in exchange for modifying outdated work rules—such as how to bid for routes—that would make the company more competitive with its rivals.

“;That's a real thorn in our sides; that's 20 percent as long as you buy it with benefits,”; Sampson said. “;They're still in a cost-neutral frame of mind for whatever we get.”;

The pilots have been seeking a 17 percent increase over four years, plus a 2.5 percent increase to the pension plan for pilots under 50 years of age. The union said Hawaiian is only offering a 1 percent increase for each of the four years—a total of 4 percent—with additional increases possible in exchange for givebacks in other areas.

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.

Jim Giddings, negotiating committee chairman for Hawaiian's ALPA unit, said the union is hopeful of an agreement following this week's talks.

“;We had a good dialogue, and we were able to engage at a conceptual level about the key issues, including retirement,”; he said. “;We look forward to more conversations with the company in an effort to reach a consensual agreement.”;

Star-Bulletin reporter Dave Segal contributed to this story.