Friday, May 11, 2001

Comair waits for tally

This deal or nothing, pilots told

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — As Comair's pilots Thursday began voting on a deal that could end their 47-day strike, the company kept up the pressure, starting with an appearance by the president of Comair's owner.

        Fred Reid, president and chief operating officer of Delta Air Lines and second-in-command at the nation's third-largest carrier, said his company was in no way going to enter negotiations between Comair and its 1,350 pilots.

[photo] Comair employees who are not pilots listen as Delta chief operating officer Fred Reid talks about the company's future Thursday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Mr. Reid also told a news conference and a crowd of Comair employees at the company's Concourse C at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport that he saw no need to return to the bargaining table if the pilots reject the deal, proposed May 3 by the National Mediation Board.

        In a separate interview with the Enquirer, Mr. Reid said the pilots' demands are not economically feasible to keep Comair profitable and growing, and that Delta is considering other options.

        “We keep hearing rumors that Delta Air Lines is going to make the big play, but I couldn't be more definitive - what the pilots want cannot be fulfilled,” Mr. Reid said. “It is not economically possible. It is not a matter of ego ... we just cannot mathematically do it. It would be disastrous for the Comair pilot, because the airline that becomes economically unsustainable will shrink and die.”

        As for what the company could do if the pilots reject the proposal, Mr. Reid did not offer specifics.

        “But the traveling public will be served,” Mr. Reid said. “And the demand will be filled ... and there are a lot of competitors who want to take that away. We need to protect that any way we can.”

        The pilots, on strike since March 26 over work rules, retirement benefits, job protection and pay, started voting on the proposal Thursday. The election ends Saturday, when results are expected to be announced. Delta and Comair have been losing $4 million daily on the strike, or about $188 million through today.

Pilots' position

        Paul Lackie, spokesman for Comair's branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, said there had been no reports of glitches in the telephone balloting, but said he could not say how many pilots voted on the first day.

        He also repeated the pilots' argument that their demands would not break Comair, saying it would raise the crew cost from $7 to about $12 per passenger, or would keep Comair's profit margin at a level twice that of Delta.

        “We still do not have hard numbers from them on their assertion, so we still don't buy it,” Mr. Lackie said. “And we have told the pilots that one of the possibilities if they don't pass the proposal is that the company could commit suicide and kill an otherwise healthy patient.”

        Many pilots have expressed reservations if not outright contempt for the proposal, while the company has accepted it.

More measures

        In addition to Mr. Reid's appearance, the full-court press by the company also included:

        • Overnight letters from the company to each pilot that said the deal was the best that they could hope for.

        • A full-page ad in the Enquirer with a copy of the same letter.

        • An announcement that AC Jet, a fellow Delta Connection carrier, would begin a route between Burlington, Vt. and Cincinnati on July 7.

        Burlington hasn't been served by Comair for several years. Delta Connection president David Siebenburgen said such announcements could become common if the strike continues.

        While refusing to speculate on the current vote, Mr. Lackie said the tactics probably would not work on the pilots.

        “The whole thing begs their credibility,” Mr. Lackie said. “If the offer is so good, why go to all this trouble and expense? If it is so apparent, we've got a savvy and educated group of people who have been told all the consequences of their vote.”


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