Pilots Protest Management Tactics

MINNEAPOLIS—-Northwest Airlink pilots who fly for Mesaba Airlines and are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International, will demonstrate against what pilots perceive to be management’s bad faith bargaining tactics at three major U.S. airports on Monday morning, June 9. Uniformed pilots will be protesting recent management actions that provoked the pilots into suing Mesaba Airlines earlier in the week for violating the federal law governing labor negotiations in the airline industry. The pilot picketing also coincides with two other milestones: negotiations entering their third year and the anniversary of the amendable date of the current contract.

Pickets will operate in front of the departure and ticketing level doors at Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, and Memphis airport terminals between 9:00am and 12:00pm (noon) central time. Pilots in full uniform will carry signs and march in military fashion in a show of solidarity and support for union leadership and negotiators.

“Mesaba management has recently reneged on previously agreed-to elements of the contract and it is now seeking to revise its own prior positions to be far less favorable to the pilots without any costing justification,” said Captain Tom Wychor, chairman of the ALPA unit at Mesaba Airlines. “Pilots obviously view these actions as yet another in a series of many stalling schemes that management has employed throughout the course of our protracted contract talks, clearly demonstrating to pilots that they have no serious intention of reaching a new agreement.”

Contributing to the frustration of the pilot group - and another basis for the pilot suit - is their belief that Mesaba management has been attempting to circumvent ALPA as the exclusive bargaining agent for the pilots.

“Mesaba pilots are represented at the bargaining table by an extremely competent negotiating committee that takes its direction from a unified membership intent on attaining a fair contract,” Wychor said. “Management should not go around the union and question individual pilots about contract negotiations.”

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The current pilot contract, inked in 1996, was extended to 6 years as part of a concession package that granted Mesaba the opportunity to obtain new regional jets from Northwest Airlines. The growth bolstered profits to over $31 million in 2000, and granted a cumulative savings to the company of $12 million. Despite current industry woes, Mesaba continues to turn profits and closed fiscal year 2003 on March 31 with a profit of $4.3 million

“Our pilots sacrificed pay and career progression for the opportunity to be rewarded when our new contract was due last year,” Wychor said. “Instead, management has broken their promises of rewards, bargained in bad faith and used threats against job security to prevent the conclusion of a fair and equitable agreement.”

Last winter, Mesaba’s parent company purchased Big Sky Airlines, a small regional airline based in Montana that also code-shares flights with Northwest. Although management claims that Big Sky was purchased as a “growth vehicle” for the company, Big Sky has lost more than $2 million since December. Despite attempts to expand service in the Pacific and Intermountain West, Big Sky had faced bankruptcy even before the purchase offer was made.

Mesaba’s pilots have serious concerns about the financial losses at Big Sky. “Mesaba’s long time and loyal employees created the profits that have made our Company strong,” said Wychor. “Now the savings from pilot concessions are being used to subsidize a money-losing operation, while our pilots are being told to accept cuts.”

Despite the lackluster status of negotiations, which have been federally mediated since last August, pilots are committed to the process and have proven through unparalleled performance, safety, and professionalism that they are faithful to Mesaba.

“Our pilots have contributed to some of the best on-time airline stats in the industry. Our safety record is untarnished. We intend to continue that service to Mesaba and Northwest until an impasse occurs,” said Captain Michael Dockman, the pilot in charge of preparing pilots for a possible strike. “Nobody wants a strike - everybody wants a contract, including all Mesaba employees. It is high time our management recognizes this.”

Mesaba Airlines operating as “Northwest Airlink” provides service to 111 cities in the U.S. and Canada as a partner with Northwest Airlines.

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union representing 66,000 pilots at 42 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at http://www.alpa.org.

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