Friday, January 11, 2008

Pinnacle vs. pilots: The latest chapter

Pinnacle Airlines logoPilots at Pinnacle Airlines have not had a pay raise since 2004. They have been in contract negotiations with the airline's management since January 2005, with no satisfactory progress. This past Monday the pilots formally requested binding arbitration by the National Mediation Board (NMB). The following day, the airline filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), the union representing the 12,000 pilots, citing bad-faith bargaining in contract talks.

In his January 7, 2008 letter to the NMB, ALPA President Capt. John Prater says that the airline's "best and last" offer submitted to the pilots in December of 2005 proposes pay rates and work rules that "fall well below industry average." Also at issue is the lack of a so-called successor clause in the company bylaws that would address job security protection.

Chairman of the Pinnacle MEC of ALPA, Capt. Scott Erickson, referring to Pinnacle's acquisition of non-union Colgan Airlines last year, said, "Essentially, it comes down to this: They took money out of the coffers of our airline, floated it up to Pinnacle Corp., the holding company, and bought another airline." The pilots fear that Colgan pilots eventually will be flying Pinnacle routes.

In its lawsuit, Pinnacle Airlines accuses the pilots of bad faith bargaining. In a news release issued by Pinnacle on January 8, Clive Seal, Vice President and General Manager of Pinnacle Airlines Inc. said, "We regret having to file this lawsuit, but the union left us with no choice. On more than one occasion, we agreed to terms that the union said would result in an agreement, and then they moved the goalposts and made additional demands. We need them to come to the table and deal fairly in a genuine effort to get a fair contract for our Pilots and their families. I believe we would have an agreement already if our Pilots had been told the truth about our offer and been allowed by the union to vote on the company proposal as we requested."

Philip H. Trenary, President and CEO of Pinnacle Airline, echoed Seal's sentiment, saying, "We want a new contract for our Pilots. We want to be at the table and bring these negotiations to a close. We have bargained in good faith and have repeatedly responded positively to requests from the union. We have been more than fair. All of us built this company together under the premise that we are a team, and we think it's unfair that our pilots are the only employee group that has not had a raise since 2005. Now, it's time for the union to be fair by putting union politics aside and doing what's in the best interest of our Pilots."

But ALPA called these statements by Pinnacle management "the height of cynicism." ALPA's Capt. Prater said in a news release:
"I’m astounded that Pinnacle management has the gall to accuse ALPA of bad-faith bargaining when management, not ALPA, has been dragging out negotiations for the last 18 months. It’s the height of cynicism.

"I sent a letter to the National Mediation Board just yesterday requesting that it issue a proffer of arbitration to the airline and the union. I do not believe the suit’s timing is a coincidence.

"I am equally outraged that Pinnacle, in a news release dated today, charged that ALPA negotiators had not 'told the truth' to pilot members regarding offers Pinnacle had made. Pilots have been fully informed on all details of negotiations throughout the process.

"How dare this management accuse us of lying to our pilots? No pilot group is more unified, well led, and serious about negotiations than our Pinnacle pilots.

"Even though many contract issues have been resolved, this management refuses to make any serious improvements in pilots' job security protection, pay rates, and work rules that would appreciably improve pilots’ quality of life."
Pinnacle MEC chairman Erickson added, "Filing this baseless lawsuit can only be a delaying tactic in retaliation for our request to the NMB. It's the latest in a long line of attempts to put off the inevitable and to misrepresent where the real blame lies—with Pinnacle management—for the failure to achieve a fair contract after three very difficult years."

The next move may be in the hands of the NMB. If the NMB denies ALPA's request for binding arbitration, negotiations will supposedly continue, although given the current climate, that seems a grim prospect. If either side rejects arbitration, a strike may ensue after a compulsory 30-day 'cooling off' period. Last November, Pinnacle pilots voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike, so the stage is set.