Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Comair pilots' deal shaky

New contract up for vote, but union leaders neutral

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Leaders of Comair's pilots union won't endorse the company's contract proposal to be voted on by the entire membership later this month, saying they will present it “neutrally.”

        The lack of an endorsement — which would have meant the Hebron-based airline and the 1,350-member union had reached a tenta tive agreement — makes passage of the proposal difficult, experts say.

        “It doesn't stand a chance” without approval from union leaders, said Darryl Jenkins, director of the Aviation Institute at The George Washington University.

        If the pilots turn down the deal, and the two sides don't come to terms, it could mean that the pilots legally could strike on March 26.

        A strike would force Comair to shut down all operations, including at its main hub at at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where the airline handles about 800,000 passengers a month and operates the most flights with 323 daily departures.

        Not all observers saw the union's move as negatively as Mr. Jenkins. Joshua M. Javits, an airline labor lawyer and former chairman of the National Mediation Board, which oversees airline labor disputes under the Railway Labor Act, said the pilots still could pass the deal without an endorsement from union leadership.

        “The neutral position isn't necessarily a wink that pilots should turn it down,” Mr. Javits said. “But now it's up to the pilots. They have to decide whether to take this or take a risk that they could get something better by going the next step. But they also have to think they could get something worse.”

        Announcement of the union leaders' decision was posted Sunday on the information telephone line for Comair pilots. Union spokesman Paul Lackie would not comment Monday on why the decision was made.

        “Under the terms of the agreement with the National Mediation Board, we said we would either endorse the contract or stay neutral and that's what we're doing,” Mr. Lackie said.

        As part of last month's agreement to bring the proposal to a vote by the full membership, both Comair and the pilots were released by federal mediators to a 30-day cooling off period. The Master Executive Council of Comair's ALPA branch would either recommend the proposed contract or stay neutral. Union officials also said the vote would be held by phone March 13-15.

        Comair spokeswoman Meghan Glynn said she was confident of a “yes” vote, even without the endorsement of union leaders. “The pilots need to look at this for themselves, and then they'll see what a strong deal this is,” she said.

        Comair, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, presented the contract to union leaders Friday. The deal would include pay raises the company says would make its pilots the highest-paid among regional airlines.


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