Hawaiian Airlines pilots seek release

Hawaiian Airlines pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), declared today that they believe their contract negotiations are at an impasse and asked the federal government to release them from mediation, a process that could start the clock for a future pilots’ strike at the airline.

In a letter sent to the National Mediation Board (NMB) on behalf of the Hawaiian pilots, ALPA President John Prater outlined three years of stalled negotiations where HAL management has repeatedly demanded contract concessions from its workers while the airline soared to unprecedented profits and richly rewarded its senior executives.

“The Company continues to insist that its present business plan requires significant sacrifice from pilots and other employees. That position is not justified by either the competitive environment, the Company’s place in the industry, or its present financial condition,” Prater said. “There is simply no reason to believe that the Company will change its position without the imposition of a deadline and the possible release from mediation. The Association believes that further mediation is not likely to lead to an agreement and that further bargaining, in the absence of a proffer, will be futile.”

In response, Hawaiian Airlines released a brief statement:

“ALPA’s request is nothing more than posturing for negotiations, which continue with the oversight of the National Mediation Board. Hawaiian remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with its pilots union.”

ALPA formally requested that the NMB 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 after which the parties are free to take self-help. At that point Hawaiian’s pilots could strike.

Capt. Eric Sampson, chairman of ALPA’s Hawaiian group, said the final straw came last week, when the company announced a $30.7 million net profit for the 3rd quarter of 2009 at the same time they asked pilots, in large part, to fund pay increases with productivity savings and work rule changes. The Company continued its track record as one of the most successful airlines in the United States and put it on target to record over a $100 million profit for the year.

With that profit, like last year, company executives will share millions of dollars in bonus money – enough, in fact, to fund the contract improvements ALPA is seeking. The bonuses and awards that Hawaiian gave to just its top five executives in 2008 are almost double the amount ALPA has asked for in 2010 pay raises for its more than 400 HAL pilots. HAL CEO Mark Dunkerley alone received a 42 percent increase in his total compensation in 2008.

“Our pilots have worked under a bankruptcy-era contract for almost five years, while the airline made more and more money. Every time the Company needed help, we stepped up to the plate,” Sampson said. “We helped them emerge from bankruptcy, we made acquiring new Airbus A-330s possible by agreeing to fly those larger planes for the same rate we fly our current Boeing aircraft, and we waived work rules to fly more hours so the Company could fill the void left when Aloha and ATA stopped flying.”

“To us, ‘ohana’ and ‘aloha’ aren’t just company marketing slogans. They mean something. We’ve had enough and we’re stating simply that pilots and other employees have to be rewarded the same way that management rewards itself for the Company’s unprecedented success and extraordinary financial performance,” Sampson stated.

In a strike authorization vote taken earlier this fall, 98 percent of participating HAL pilots gave their leadership the go-ahead to declare a strike if the NMB releases ALPA to self-help. It would be the first walkout in Hawaiian’s 80-year history.

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