Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines vs Pilots: Trouble in paradise?

by B .N. Sullivan

A tropical storm of sorts appears to be brewing in Hawaii, but it has nothing to do with the weather. Instead it has to do with what is turning into a full-blown labor dispute between Hawaiian Airlines and its pilots.

Fed up after two years of fruitless negotiations with Hawaiian Airlines management, last week officials of the pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), met with Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and state labor officials in Honolulu to apprise them of the situation. Capt. John Prater, ALPA's national president, expressed to the governor "a strong sense of urgency" regarding the need to finalize contract negotiations.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767-300ER“I told Governor Lingle that we feel we have moved beyond the realm of simple negotiations and now are in a labor dispute with Hawaiian,” said Capt. Prater in a statement to the media. “She clearly understands the vital importance of air transportation to the state’s economy, and we appreciated her taking the time to listen to our concerns.”

Also present at the meeting with Governor Lingle were Chief of Staff Barry Fukunaga; Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations director, Darwin Ching; Capt. Eric Sampson, chairman of the Hawaiian Airlines chapter of ALPA; and Capt. Mike Garnett of the Island Air pilots’ Negotiating Committee. Island Air, another ALPA-represented airline, is also in contract talks with its management.

The Hawaiian Airlines pilots are working at present under the terms of a concessionary agreement ratified in 2005 while the airline was in bankruptcy. The pilots' contract became amendable on June 30, 2007. This past September, ALPA filed for federal mediation of contract talks, but no satisfactory agreement has yet been reached. At issue are wages, including a cost-of-living raise, and retirement funding. The last scheduled session with the federal mediator will be held April 7-15.

“With two weeks of intensive bargaining coming up in April, we wanted to make the governor aware that the Hawaiian pilots have already made numerous contract concessions for the past six years, both in and out of bankruptcy,” Capt. Sampson said. “Our perspective is that the company is profitable and can afford to pay us small, reasonable cost-of-living raises.”

If a satisfactory agreement is not reached next month, would Hawaiian Airlines pilots begin preparing for a strike? Local news media in Hawaii are reporting that move as a possibility. The day after the pilots met with the governor, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported:
Capt. John Prater said yesterday that the two sides are still at issue over wages and retirement funding and that Hawaiian's pilots eventually could go on strike if no settlement is reached. He met with Gov. Linda Lingle and other state officials in Honolulu on Thursday to brief them on the status of negotiations.

"(Hawaiian is) still living under what the bankruptcy judge gave them," Prater said. "They paid everybody else off. They paid their creditors off. They paid their managers quite well. They expect us to work for a bankrupt company - no. This company has been doing OK. It has done a lot better and it can do even better. We don't want this thing to drag on and on because there will be a day of reckoning that we're trying to avoid."
The Star-Bulletin article also quoted Hawaiian Airlines Senior Vice President Charles Nardello, who said of the pilots, "Their union's current position - especially during the worst recession in a generation while other carriers are laying off - has undermined our efforts to have constructive discussions."

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines reached tentative contract agreements with its flight attendants' union, AFA, in February, and with ground workers represented by the IAM earlier this month.