Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hawaiian Airlines pilots begin strike authorization vote

by B. N. Sullivan

The 405 pilots at Hawaiian Airlines are seriously considering a strike to protest stalled contract negotiations. The pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), began a strike authorization vote yesterday. The strike ballot would authorize the Hawaiian Master Executive Council (MEC) of ALPA to declare a strike once the pilot group was given permission to do so by the National Mediation Board (NMB). The balloting will continue until September 10.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767-300ERHawaiian 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, and collective bargaining has been underway for more than two years. The pilots' union applied for NMB mediation of their contract negotiations in September of 2008.

ALPA acknowledges that the two sides made progress in discussing retirement issues during a four-day mediation session at NMB headquarters in Washington, DC last week, but the pilots and Hawaiian management still disagree on the size and structure of future pay increases. According to the union, a major sticking point "is management’s insistence that pilots pay for any raises over one percent a year by agreeing to 'productivity enhancements' – contract concessions that would force them to fly longer hours and spend more time away from home."

“Management is trying to shield themselves from future economic uncertainty by penalizing the workers responsible for Hawaiian’s present success. They should have more faith in our airline’s potential and realize that their greatest challenge is rebuilding relationships with the pilots and other employees who have suffered the most during Hawaiian’s lean years -- long before our current management ever came to Hawaii,” said Hawaiian MEC Chairman Capt. Eric Sampson.

If the next mediation session, scheduled for mid-October, does not show substantial progress, ALPA could ask the NMB to release the union from mediation. If the NMB approves the release, the pilots would enter into a 30-day cooling off period. A lawful pilot strike could follow at the end of that 30-day period.

“We want a contract, not a strike, and we are still hopeful an agreement can be reached before Hawaiian’s 80th anniversary in November. We are also confident the strike voting results will prove that management should not test this group’s resolve,” Sampson said.

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

UPDATE Sep. 12, 2009: Hawaiian Airlines pilots have voted in favor of authorizing a strike