Comair Says Stymied Labor Talks May Lead to Layoff of Hundreds

Stalled labor talks could force regional airline Comair, which flies small jets for Delta Air Lines, to lay off hundreds of workers, the company said.

The warning came as Comair submitted a bid to Delta aimed at retaining the right to fly a big chunk of its current routes.

But airlines spokeswoman Tressie Long said Monday that Comair may well be underbid by competitors because of "little progress" in concession talks with Comair's pilots. Delta is expected to announce a decision next month.

Delta, in a bid to cut its costs while in Chapter 11, requested outside bids for much of its regional jet flying. Though Delta owns Comair, it, too, was required to bid. Comair has pushed unions for concessions that would make its bid more competitive. The bid was due Monday.

Comair, which employs 6,500 and is based in Erlanger, Ky., is seeking a total of $42 million a year in pay cuts from unionized pilots, mechanics and flight attendants, as well as from non-union employees.

Capt. J.C. Lawson, chairman of Comair's pilots union, said the Air Line Pilots Association wants a deal with Comair, but objects to the company's demands. Lawson said that despite Delta's improving financial performance and falling fuel prices, Comair is still demanding the same concessions from pilots as a year ago. Compromise "is not going to be just one way," Lawson said.

Comair, which also is operating in Chapter 11, has won permission from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to unilaterally impose lower pay rates on its flight attendants if necessary.

But Long, the company spokeswoman, said Comair won't impose them as long as talks with that union continue.

The airline would rather negotiate a compromise with the flight attendants, she said, because imposing a new contract could prompt a disruptive strike.

Talks with the International Association of Machinists, which represents Comair's aircraft mechanics, also are continuing, Long said. In its bid Monday, Comair planned to use reduced estimated pay rates for both flight attendants and mechanics.

But she said Comair planned to use current pay rates for its pilots, who earn more than pilots at other regional carriers. That could cost Comair the Delta contract, she said. Comair could lose all 27 of its 70-seat jets and 15 of its 50-seat jets used for the Delta flying.

Delta extended the period for Comair's bid to allow the company time to attend to a fatal crash. On Aug. 27, an early Comair flight departing Lexington, Ky., crashed and burned, killing 49.