Comair Pilots: Union Can Call Strike

Comair pilots on Monday overwhelmingly gave their union leaders authorization to call a strike if they determine it's necessary in the continuing dispute with the regional airline over contract concessions.

Pilots had been voting by mail since last month on whether to give union leaders authority to call a strike against the Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary. The Air Line Pilots Association, representing Comair's 1,500 pilots, said the vote was 93.2 percent in favor of the authorization, but union spokesman Paul Denke said pilots still hope to reach a consensual pay-cutting deal with Comair.

'This vote tally by Comair pilots sends a loud and clear message to our management and Delta management that we are united in our resolve and will not work under imposed conditions,' said Denke. 'If management will not work with us and negotiate a fair and consensual agreement -- one pilots can afford to live under -- we now have the authorization to call for a strike.'

Union leaders did not say how many pilots voted.

A message seeking comment was left at Comair offices Monday night.

Negotiations resumed Monday as the two sides tried to reach agreement at the urging of a federal bankruptcy court judge, and talks were scheduled to continue Tuesday.

Both sides filed closing statements Monday in bankruptcy court over the airline's request that the judge allow it to throw out the pilots' contract and impose $15.8 million in concessions.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Adlai Hardin has said he would not be moved by threats of a strike or threats to close down the airline.

Comair pilots still would have pay and benefits in line with others who fly planes for regional airlines if the airline is allowed to impose the $15.8 million in annual concessions it is seeking, Comair said in its filing Monday.

The airline stressed in its closing statement that it needs the concessions -- lowering pilots' wages and retirement benefits -- to carry out its restructuring plan.

The Air Line Pilots Association said the amount of concessions the airline is demanding would leave its pilots pay well below market levels.

'It would also make some pilots eligible for federal welfare assistance,' the union said in its filing.

Comair's proposal would mean an average pay cut of 11 percent for pilots, who earn about $58,800 annually, on average.

The pilots union also argued that Comair is making profits and doesn't need the amount of concessions it is demanding in order to emerge from bankruptcy.

Comair, based in Erlanger, Ky., near Cincinnati, and Atlanta-based Delta filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2005.

Comair said in its filing that it is still struggling to achieve costs that will allow it to be competitive with other regional airlines as it tries to emerge from bankruptcy. The airline argued that its proposal would leave pilots with benefits 'comparable to or more generous than other airlines in the regional industry.'

Comair, with 6,400 employees, operates 795 flights daily to approximately 97 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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