Comair took another major step in its plan for emerging from bankruptcy protection when flight attendants approved $7.9 million in wage cuts and other concessions. Now the Delta subsidiary is focusing on getting concessions from its pilots - the last holdout among its unions.
The four-year contract agreement Comair flight attendants ratified Tuesday includes a 7.5 percent pay cut and job protection if Comair was sold by Delta Air Lines Inc. before emerging from bankruptcy protection. Both sides negotiated the deal after a bankruptcy judge in New York gave Comair permission to impose concessions.
"Job security was a No. 1 issue for us in reaching the agreement," said Connie Slayback, president of Local 513 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Comair's 970 flight attendants.
Slayback said the 549-to-126 vote ratifying the agreement showed that the majority of flight attendants were satisfied with the deal the union and Comair tentatively reached last month - four days after Comair said that it would impose wage cuts and changes in work rules for the flight attendants on Nov. 15.
"This agreement maintains industry-leading wages and helps Comair begin the process of rebuilding the company," Slayback said.
Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said that even with the pay cut - amounting to about $2,250 on average - the flight attendants will remain the highest paid in the regional airline industry.
Dave Soaper, Comair's senior vice president of aircraft operations, thanked the flight attendants for ratifying the contract in a memo Tuesday.
"The agreement is the result of nearly a year of negotiations and is an important step in completing our restructuring," Soaper said in the memo.
Like Delta, Comair is trying to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filed last year and it says concessions from all of its unions are essential.
The airline had reached an agreement earlier this year with pilots for $17.3 million in cuts and for $1 million in concessions from its mechanics, but those deals were contingent on Comair getting $8.9 million in givebacks from the flight attendants. Comair went back to negotiations with its mechanics and pilots after reducing the amount needed from flight attendants to $7.9 million.
The Machinists union representing Comair's 545 mechanics last month approved a deal that kept mechanics' concessions at the original $1 million, but both sides say very little progress has been made in negotiations with the pilots.
On Nov. 2, Comair asked U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York to allow it to impose $15.8 million in concessions on its pilots if an agreement is not reached.
Paul Denke, a spokesman for the Comair unit of the Air Line Pilots Association representing Comair's 1,500 pilots, said Tuesday that the agreement with flight attendants shows a consensual deal is possible when management gets serious about negotiations.
"We are hoping that management becomes serious about reaching a fair and equitable consensual deal with us," Denke said.
Marx said that Comair is actively involved in negotiations with the pilots union to get an agreement that would allow the airline to remain cost-competitive.
"An agreement with ALPA would allow us to complete restructuring and is essentially the final piece," she said.
Denke said the union has established a strike preparedness committee in the event Comair imposes concessions on its pilots. He said the union has proposed $14 million in concessions that would be in addition to those that pilots already have made over the past two years.
The deal with the flight attendants is expected to be approved by the federal bankruptcy judge. The deals with the flight attendants and the mechanics would take effect Dec. 31 unless the pilots union reaches a deal with Comair before that.
Comair, with 6,500 employees, operates 882 flights daily to approximately 103 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
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The two sides have reached a tentative agreement on concessions.
The flight attendants have said they would strike if the concessions were imposed.
The wage cut the company is proposing would be 11 percent when including a pay raise the attendants are to receive in November.