ASA Pilots Union Opens Strike Center

Atlantic Southeast pilots, who have been flying under a labor contract that expired four years ago, have opened a strike center in hopes of pressuring the company to reach a new agreement that would improve wages and benefits.

The center, announced Friday as opened at an undisclosed location, would serve as a command post if the pilots strike. It marks the latest effort by the pilots union to get stalled negotiations restarted, or persuade the National Mediation Board to offer binding arbitration to the two sides if it concludes further negotiations will be fruitless.

No formal negotiations have been held since May. Meetings on Aug. 30 and 31 called by the board to restart talks collapsed when ASA offered only a token improvement on its contract offer, said Capt. Rich Bernskoetter, an ASA pilot and spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association.

"Our pilots are absolutely at their wits' end," Bernskoetter said Friday. "They've seen all of this far too long. They've heard the company's mantra for the last four years, and they are fed up."

ASA executives did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment Friday.

The airline is a subsidiary of SkyWest Inc., which bought the ASA from Delta Air Lines last year. ASA has 1,700 pilots, including 150 aviators stationed in Salt Lake. It operates as a Delta Connection regional carrier for Delta, with 40 daily departures from its Salt Lake City International Airport hub.

Beginning in November, when negotiators representing the pilots held a vote to express no confidence in management, ALPA has been increasing the pressure on ASA. In May, pilots conducted informational picketing outside the carrier's Atlanta headquarters. In July, the aviators voted to authorize their union leaders to call a strike if negotiations don't produce a new contract.

"You don't open a strike center unless you are preparing for the eventuality of a strike, and that's what we are doing [now]," Bernskoetter said. "I hope it never comes to that. A strike is not imminent, but it certainly is an event that we have to be prepared for."

ALPA's tactics on behalf of ASA pilots are suggestive of those used by ALPA-represented Delta pilots in their fight to blunt pay and benefits cuts that Delta demanded earlier this year. Delta pilots authorized their representatives to call a strike and went so far as to set up a command center. The sides eventually reached an agreement.

The current ASA pilot contract, ratified in 1998, was in force until Sept. 15, 2002. Since then, pilots have been seeking moderate increases in pay, retirement benefits and insurance benefits, union spokesman John Perkinson said.

Perkinson said ASA wants to bring pay rates for flying CRJ-700 regional jets closer to what pilots flying smaller CRJ-200 jets earn. Other pilot compensation would remain essentially unchanged.

ASA captains with 10 years of experience who fly CRJ-700 jets earn $81 an hour, according to, a Web site that tracks pilot pay. CRJ-200 captains with identical flying experience earn $71 an hour.

By contrast, non-union pilots at SkyWest Airlines, ASA's sister carrier, earn $74 an hour for flying either jet type, according to the Web site.

St. George-based SkyWest Inc. bought ASA from Delta one week before Delta filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. SkyWest Airlines and ASA operate as separate subsidiaries.

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