Contract mediation worries Hawaiian pilots

HONOLULU — Hawaiian Airlines management and pilots are working out details of a new contract in negotiations aided by federal mediators.

Wages are one issue, but not the only item of disagreement, said Keoni Wagner, airlines spokesman.

Talks began in December between the company and its pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The pilots’ contract became amendable at the end of February this year.

The company’s pilots have been critical of the company’s decision to file for National Mediation Board help to expedite contract negotiations. They feel the mediators’ involvement will lengthen the negotiations at a crucial point in company history, when the carrier will replace its interisland DC-9 fleet with Boeing’s newest model, the B717 (or 717-200).

Contractual obligations require management to negotiate new pay rates and work rules before introducing new aircraft into operation.

“While we have made some progress in addressing the issues before us, it is clear that some issues are more difficult,” said Paul J. Casey, Hawaiian Airlines’ president. “We hope that mediation will help us reach a fair and prompt agreement.” Capt. Kirk McBride, chairman of the Hawaiian pilots’ unit of ALPA, said they also want a quick settlement and have worked to limit the number of issues discussed at the bargaining table.

It is ALPA’s contention that federal mediation will slow rather than quicken the negotiations, and the company’s request for mediation at an “extremely unusual midpoint of negotiations rather than the end of that process” may signal management’s change to a confrontational rather than cooperative negotiations stance.

“I thought we were working toward the same goals: Bringing the B717 to Hawaiian by 2001 and negotiating a fair contract for the pilots,” said McBride.

For treks between Hawai’i and the mainland, Hawaiian’s competitors pay their pilots an average of nearly double what Hawaiian pays its pilots for the same work, he said.

“We’ve bent over backward to quickly complete work on a new contract and a B717 agreement, but it seems management would prefer to turn over their responsibilities to a third party,” McBride said. “The pilots and other employee groups at Hawaiian invested more than anyone to bring this airline out of bankruptcy, keep it alive and see it through to its present prosperity.

“I am thoroughly disappointed that the sacrifices of our employees do not seem to be remembered now that the airline is a strong competitor in the interisland and mainland markets.” McBride said the pilots “and all of the other Hawaiian employees deserve a fair return on their investment and loyalty, and they deserve to be paid at the same level as their counterparts at the other airlines.” Hawaiian recently announced net income of $2 million for the first six months of this year, compared to $1.5 million for the same period in 1999.

Net income for the second quarter was $4.6 million, with operating revenues increasing due to the robust mainland economy and high demand for travel to Hawai’i from the West Coast.

Advanced bookings for this fall look “promising” as well, said Casey.

Business editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) and pcurtis@pulitzer.net

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