MINNEAPOLIS—- Mesaba Airlines pilots will conduct picketing demonstrations between 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Thursday in front of the Mesaba Holdings, Inc. annual shareholders meeting held at the Marriott City Center Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. 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 Airlines, a subsidiary of Mesaba Holdings, Inc., operates as a “Northwest Airlink” partner for Minneapolis based Northwest Airlines.
The pilots have been in contract talks with Mesaba Airlines management for over two years and have worked with a federal mediator for the past year. The pilots’ union - the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) - has filed a federal lawsuit against Mesaba Airlines alleging management has used bad-faith bargaining tactics during the protracted talks. Not surprisingly, little progress has been made towards an agreement on the new contract, which was due to be amended in June 2002.
“We are prepared and ready to use every legal means necessary to get a contract that we have earned. If that means going on strike, unfortunate as that is, we may have to go down that road,” stated Captain Michael Dockman, a Mesaba Airlines pilot who has been working to prepare pilots for the possibility of a work stoppage.
ALPA recently requested that the National Mediation Board make a proffer of arbitration. If either party declines arbitration, the parties are released into a 30-day cooling-off period, after which the pilots would be free to strike. The National Mediation Board oversees all negotiations of airline labor contracts under the Railway Labor Act.
Mesaba Holdings earned $4.3 million in profit during the last fiscal year. This success will most likely be heralded as a highlight during the shareholders meeting, despite the fact that Mesaba Holdings’ newly acquired subsidiary, Big Sky Airlines, continues to hemorrhage cash at the rate of a quarter of a million dollars per month. Mesaba Holdings’ earnings were reduced as a result of the Big Sky Airlines acquisition, which occurred late last year.
“Mesaba Airlines pilots are carrying the burden of keeping their company profitable and highly successful performance-wise, while working under concessionary pay scales and concerns about their job security,” claims Captain Tom Wychor, Chairman of the ALPA unit representing Mesaba. “Meanwhile, it appears that our revenue is subsidizing Big Sky, which continues to operate at a loss.”
Mesaba Holdings’ profitability soared to $31 million after pilots took concessions ensuring Mesaba Airlines would grow with the addition of regional jets to its operation. Even since the tragic post 9/11 industry downturn, outbreak of SARS, the war with Iraq, and recent major power outages in the eastern United States affecting Mesaba Airlines operations, the company has remained profitable without cutting wages.
Primary issues causing the impasse focus on compensation and job security. First Officers at Mesaba Airlines earn $17,000 in their first year, and will earn only $24,000 after three years. Mesaba Airlines pilots who retire will take with them 25 percent less in retirement savings than many of their peers at other regional and express carriers. Mesaba Airlines pilots also want guarantees on job security that would prevent their jobs from being outsourced to carriers that pay their flight crews less than Mesaba, such as Big Sky Airlines.
“Mesaba Airlines pilots invested in this company in 1996 by taking pay and work rule concessions. Despite the challenges of today’s airline industry, our investment continues to pay off for Northwest Airlines and the other stakeholders. We want a return on our own investment,” said Wychor.
Mesaba Airlines operates as “Northwest Airlink” and provides service to 106 cities in 24 states and Canada under service agreements with Northwest Airlines. Mesaba employs 850 professional airline pilots based in Minneapolis / St. Paul, Detroit, and Memphis.
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 Web site at http://www.alpa.orgÊ