Judge Blocks Comair Pilots from Striking

CINCINNATI (AFX) - Comair pilots cannot go on strike if the Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary imposes wage cuts and other concessions on them, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Adlai Hardin of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York granted Comair's request to block a strike and any other job actions that would disrupt Comair's operations. The pilots had authorized their union leaders to call a strike if the airline throws out their contract and imposes concessions.

Hardin said in his ruling that a strike or job action by pilots would violate federal law that says employees of common carriers such as an airline have a legal duty 'to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier.'

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Comair's 1,500 pilots, had argued that it had a legal right to take self-help actions such as a strike if contract concessions are imposed upon them.

The union will abide by the judge's ruling but plans to appeal it, said Paul Denke, a union spokesman.

'This decision creates an unlevel playing field in favor of management,' he said.

Hardin ruled Dec. 21 that Comair could impose concessions if a deal was not reached between the company and the union. The next day, Comair asked the judge to block any job action by the pilots, but later asked him to delay that ruling while talks continued in January.

The last negotiating sessions were held last week, and no new talks have been set.

Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said the company would implement the concessions unless a tentative agreement is reached by 11:59 p.m. Friday. Even if those contract terms are imposed, Marx said Comair would continue to negotiate with pilots on the overall contract and its duration.

Comair has been seeking concessions of $15.8 million a year from the pilots as part of its restructuring plan to save $70 million annually. It has previously gotten concessions from its flight attendants and mechanics.

Denke said the ruling cannot stop pilots from leaving Comair.

'If this management team at Comair/Delta cannot take care of their employees, their employees will find someone who will,' he said.

Comair, like its Atlanta-based parent, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2005.

The Erlanger, Ky.-based Comair, near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, previously had an agreement with its pilots for $17.3 million in annual cuts over the next four years. But the deal was contingent on Comair getting a certain level of savings from its flight attendants and mechanics union.

Because the flight attendants approved a deal in November to cut annual costs by $7.9 million, $1 million less than originally required, the airline had to negotiate new deals with the machinists and pilots. The machinists agreed to a modified deal, but the pilots did not.

Comair, with 6,400 employees, operates 795 flights daily to about 100 cities in North America.

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