Monday, September 15, 2008

Pilots concerned over Alaska Airlines plan to lay off up to 1,000 line employees

Alaska Airlines logoIn conjunction with a capacity reduction of 8%, Alaska Airlines has announced plans for a work force reduction. In a statement issued late last week, the carrier's parent, Alaska Air Group, Inc., said that it will eliminate 850 to 1,000 "operational" positions at Alaska Airlines, including pilots, flight attendants, aircraft technicians, and reservations, customer service and ramp agents. The press release said, in part:
In response to the current environment, the company has undertaken a variety of initiatives to improve profitability and protect its cash balance. These measures include raising fares, increasing fees and instituting a charge for a second checked bag, taking steps to reduce fuel consumption, and deferring or eliminating numerous projects and capital spending.

"These steps, when combined with the recently completed transition to an all-Boeing 737 fleet, improve our viability, but are not enough to eliminate the need to reduce the number of our employees," [chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group] Ayer said.

Alaska Airlines is working with the unions representing operational employees to offer early-out programs and six-month to two-year leaves of absence to minimize the number of involuntary furloughs. Affected employees will leave the company starting in November and continuing through early 2009.
Furloughs for 190 pilots are among the anticipated job cuts at Alaska Airlines -- a move that the pilots' union worries will limit the airline's ability to respond to market opportunities. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union that represents Alaska's 1,500 pilots, issued the following statement in response to the carrier's furlough announcement:
“We are concerned that, particularly as oil prices continue to plummet, Alaska Airlines will reduce its pilot ranks so severely that our management will create a situation in which our carrier will be unable to take advantage of its strong cash position and respond to opportunities to grow as other airlines cut routes and capacity,” said Capt. Bill Shivers, chairman of the Alaska Airlines Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association.

“Following 9/11, Alaska Airlines strategically used its strong financial position to grow our airline and expand into new markets. When conditions again improve to the point that would allow financially strong carriers to grow, we are concerned that competitors such as Southwest, Virgin America or Jet Blue will be in a position to capitalize on opportunities that our company has denied itself the ability to take advantage of. Returning pilots to the line after a furlough is a time consuming process, and if management follows through on announced plans to reduce pilot ranks so severely, they create a scenario where we are no longer a nimble carrier able to quickly respond to emerging opportunities.

“We’ve already worked with Alaska’s management to create early out retirement and extended leave of absence programs, designed to mitigate the furlough and are continuing to look at ways to prevent the furlough as required by our Collective Bargaining Agreement. We will continue to support and represent all of our pilots, including any who management may choose to furlough.”
Alaska Air Group, Inc., also announced coming capacity and work force reductions for its other airline, Horizon Air. Management expects to reduce Horizon Air capacity in the fourth quarter by about 20 percent compared to the same period last year. The work force reduction at Horizon Air will include elimination of 94 pilot positions "through attrition, early-out packages and leaves, and a furlough of about 40 pilots this November."

In other work groups at Horizon Air, furloughs are being minimized through early-out programs, unpaid leaves and attrition, the company said.