Judge May Rule on Comair Contract

A federal bankruptcy judge, clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of intervening in regional airline Comair's labor negotiations with its Teamster-represented flight attendants, nonetheless said Friday he will rule on whether to void their labor contract April 10 if the two sides cannot come to an agreement.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Adlai Hardin repeatedly questioned both sides on the state of negotiations, which have continued this week but appear to be at an impasse. Comair, which filed for bankrputcy protection along with parent company Delta Air Lines Inc. last year, is seeking $8.9 million in wage cuts and other savings from the attendants.

Hardin noted that Comair's entire reorganization hinges on the flight attendant contract cuts, since the pilots' and mechanics' unions agreed to wage cuts earlier - but only if Comair could get the $8.9 million in concessions from the flight attendants.

"The fact that in bargaining with the airline pilots, you have bargained away the flight attendants," Hardin said.

If the two sides do not come to a decision by April 10, Hardin will rule on Comair's request to nullify the attendants' contract altogether. However, he could still extend that deadline.

The union's attorneys questioned whether the cuts would be necessary, but Hardin said the law required all parties in a bankruptcy case to "share the pain." However, Hardin appeared to agree that Comair's other union negotiations put both the attendants and the airline in a difficult position.

"If you go ahead and make an agreement in the pilots and say you're going to get a certain amount from the flight attendants, you're not bargaining in good faith," said union lawyer Ronald Wilder.

Erlanger, Ky.-based Comair said it needs to reduce wages and benefits of 970 flight attendants as part of a plan to cut $42 million in annual costs, without which the carrier has said it will have to cease operations.

In addition to asking its 970 flight attendants to agree to cuts in wages and benefits worth $8.9 million, Comair already reached an agreement with its pilots for $17.3 million in cost cuts and for $1 million from its mechanics. However, both deals have a contingency clause that would nullify them if the flight attendants do not agree to cuts as well.

If Hardin agrees to void Comair's employee contracts in court, Comair could then unilaterally impose wage and benefit cuts on flight attendants. The flight attendants, who have threatened to strike over Comair's motion to do away with their contracts, have said they are being asked to give up too much.

Wilder said that while attendants' salaries make up 10 percent of Comair's payroll, they were being asked to shoulder 21 percent of the cuts Comair is seeking to make.

Comair was acquired by Atlanta-based Delta in 2000. The company filed its request to toss out its employee contracts in February.

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