Comair to Cut Flight Attendant Wages

After failed negotiations with the union, Delta subsidiary Comair will unilaterally cut wages and change work rules for its 970 flight attendants on Nov. 15, the company said.

The flight attendants have threatened to go on strike if the regional-jet airline imposed concessions, and the company said Monday that it will seek an order to prevent the union from engaging in any type of work action, such as a strike or a work slowdown.

The flight attendants' union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, wouldn't comment on whether the flight attendants would go on strike Nov. 15 if concessions are imposed.

"We have lots of options at our disposal, including court actions and other things, and we will continue using every one of them," said Connie Slayback, president of Local 513 of the flight attendants union.

Comair's action comes more than two months after a federal bankruptcy judge gave Comair permission to throw out its contract with the flight attendants. Comair was seeking concessions of $7.9 million a year as part of a package of cuts from its flight attendants, pilots and mechanics.

"We believe that any such action would be illegal and that a judge's decision in recent weeks to block a strike by Northwest Airlines flight attendants further strengthens our position," Comair President Don Bornhorst said in a memo to employees Monday.

Like its parent Delta Air Lines Inc., Comair is reorganizing in bankruptcy.

Comair said it has tried since last November to reach a deal with the flight attendants.

Even with the adjustments to the contract that include an average pay cut of 7.5 percent, the company says its flight attendants will remain the highest paid in the regional airline industry. The average flight attendant salary is $29,950 and the average pay cut is $2,250.

The flight attendants were not surprised by Comair's decision to impose the concessions, said Slayback.

"We knew it was coming," Slayback said. "We are prepared to continue to negotiate, and we gave them a proposal today."

The airline received the proposal, but the terms were unacceptable, according to Comair.

"Our time has simply run out," Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said. "After recent discussions with the IBT, it became apparent that we had exhausted every opportunity to reach a consensual agreement."

Comair said, however, that it remains willing to negotiate and still wants a deal with the union. The company would not speculate on the possibility of a strike or its potential impact.

The airline, based in nearby Erlanger, Ky., also has been negotiating with its pilots and mechanics union.

Comair had earlier reached an agreement with its pilots for $17.3 million in cuts and for $1 million from its mechanics, but those deals were contingent on Comair getting $8.9 million in givebacks from flight attendants. Talks resumed with the pilots and mechanics after Comair said it had reduced the flight attendant concessions to $7.9 million.

Bornhorst has said the carrier needs to cut labor costs to be able to avoid shrinking its service.

Delta announced Aug. 22 that it had requested bids for some of its regional jet service, much of which is handled by Comair. Comair Flight 5191 crashed five days later in Lexington, Ky., killing 49 people, and Delta extended a Sept. 18 bid deadline to Oct. 2.

Comair submitted its bid by last week's deadline, saying that it reflected the restructuring it has completed in nonunion areas and the savings forecast for the flight attendants and mechanics.

But the company said the lack of pilot concessions would likely cost the airline any chance of winning the bid.

No significant progress has been made with the pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, and no new talks have been scheduled with that group, Bornhorst said. ALPA told the company that it would not be able to negotiate until the end of October, he said.

"What the company is saying is extremely confusing," ALPA spokesman Paul Denke said. "We have always been willing to meet anytime and anywhere. We want a fair and consensual agreement."


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