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Pilots want out of talks


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines' pilots union, claiming that contract negotiations are at an impasse, has asked the federal government to release it from mediation — a move that could set the stage for a pilots' strike.

Air Line Pilots Association President John Prater wrote in a letter yesterday to the National Mediation Board that Hawaiian's management has repeatedly demanded contract concessions from its workers — dating back to its 2003 bankruptcy — while the airline continues to post “;positive, sustained and even record financial and operational performance.”;

The union said the $5 million in bonuses and awards that Hawaiian gave to its top five executives in 2008 is almost double the amount ALPA has asked for in 2010 pay raises for its more than 400 Hawaiian Air pilots. ALPA pointed out that Hawaiian President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Dunkerley received a 42 percent increase in his total compensation in 2008 over the previous year.

“;The company continues to insist that its present business plan requires significant sacrifice from pilots and other employees,”; wrote Prater, noting that contract talks have been going on for three years. “;That position is not justified by either the competitive environment, the company's place in the industry, or its present financial condition.”;

Last week, Hawaiian said its third-quarter net income rose 408 percent from the year-ago quarter, but that $20 million of its $30.7 million in net income came from a one-time tax benefit. Revenue, however, fell 10.1 percent to $305.6 million.

Prater said there is no reason to believe that Hawaiian will change its position without the imposition of a deadline and the possible release from mediation. He said the company will not agree to increase costs consistent with ALPA's offers without substantial offsets.

Hawaiian characterized ALPA's request as “;nothing more than posturing for negotiations.”;

The company said the National Mediation Board continues to oversee talks and that “;Hawaiian remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with its pilots union.”;

Dunkerley has said in the past that the company has offered the pilots an opportunity to participate in profit-sharing in exchange for modifying outdated work rules — such as how to bid for routes — that would make the company more competitive with its rivals.

ALPA formally requested that the National Mediation Board end its mediation efforts and issue a proffer of arbitration to both parties. If the board makes a proffer and either ALPA or Hawaiian declines to enter binding arbitration, the two sides would be released from mediation and will enter a 30-day cooling-off period. 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. At that point, Hawaiian's pilots could strike.

Capt. Eric Sampson, chairman of Hawaiian's ALPA unit, said the final straw came last week when the company announced its $30.7 million profit at the same time it asked pilots, in large part, to fund pay increases with productivity savings and work-rule changes.