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Clock is ticking on pilot deal


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines and its pilots union, gearing up for another showdown in front of the National Mediation Board, may be reaching a crossroads in their contract negotiations.

Three years after commencing labor talks, the company and the Air Line Pilots Association appear to be running out of time to reach an acceptable settlement.

In a letter sent yesterday to Hawaiian President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Dunkerley and ALPA President John Prater, National Mediation Board Director Lawrence Gibbons said the board has decided to withhold action on a request by the pilots to declare a negotiation impasse until after the two sides complete mediation talks scheduled for the week of Dec. 7.

“;At that time, the board will, based on the conduct of the parties, determine how to best advance the mediation case,”; Gibbons wrote.

The pilots, claiming that contract negotiations are at an impasse, asked the board last month to release ALPA from mediation — a move that eventually could lead to a pilots strike if a subsequent 30-day cooling-off period, binding arbitration and the appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board are exhausted.

Dunkerley described the proposal made by the company to the pilots as “;a very, very generous offer”; yesterday.

“;I don't think the money is the issue,”; he said. “;We've offered to meet essentially all of ALPA's pay and pension objectives. We have on the pilots' table to pay each pilot an average of more than $100,000 each over the next five years in pay and benefits. All we're asking back for is to move some of the work rules in which we're un-competitive. For every $1 of work rules, we're offering over $2 in terms of improved pay and retirement benefits, which would leave our pilots the second-best-paid pilots in the entire U.S. airline industry.”;

However, Eric Sampson, master executive council chairman for Hawaiian's ALPA unit, said Dunkerley's position “;is totally lopsided.”;

“;He's still insisting that we buy our pay raise with our work rules,”; Sampson said. “;We're asking for 5, 4, 4 and 4 percent for a total of 17 percent over four years. Dunkerley is on record as offering 20 percent, and it's 1 percent from them and we would have to buy 19 percent. He's asking for some pretty important (work-rule) benefits under the guise of management prerogative.”;

Dunkerley said the pilots' work rules are what they are today because more than 20 years ago the company paid pilots 30 to 40 percent less than their mainland counterparts because it couldn't pay industry rates and had to offer other incentives.

Now, though, he said Hawaiian's pilots are paid in about the middle of the pack compared with other airlines, and their retirement benefits are richer than most other airlines. Dunkerley said with the company growing, it's time to change some work rules to avoid possible furloughs in the future if the company's fortunes change.

Among work-rule changes, he said, is one in which the company's contract requires more pilots to be on reserve during weekdays rather than on weekends if a pilot calls in sick or is delayed. “;That's entirely counterproductive because you generally need more pilots on weekends than weekdays,”; Dunkerley said.

Other work-rule changes that Dunkerley wants include one that pays pilots between $110 and $160 for their time to take urine tests in conjunction with drug and alcohol testing, as well as a rule that guarantees pilots 13 days off out of 31 days instead of 11 days off in the month like at other airlines, he said.

Pilots' pay ranges from $35,000 to a first-year pilot to up to $175,000 for a senior pilot, Sampson said.

“;We don't want to strike,”; Sampson said, “;but he's boxed us into a corner where we're not going to get a fair and affordable contract other than to pursue this course of action.”;