Delta Connection Pilots Seek End to Bitter Contract Impasse

Oct. 2, 2006
The Air Line Pilots Association wouldn't reveal how much of a pay raise it was seeking, but Bernskoetter said the figure was less than 10 percent.

Delta Connection pilots sought the appointment Friday of an arbitrator by the National Mediation Board to end their four-year-old contract impasse with Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

"You could make more money bagging groceries," Capt. Rick Bernskoetter of Lawrenceville, Ga., said of entry-level pay for a co-pilot. He said Atlantic Southeast Airlines was offering a "microscopic" pay raise of 26 cents an hour for senior pilots, which ASA has termed "substantial."

Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a subsidiary of St. George, Utah-based SkyWest Inc., could reject the call by the union, the Air Line Pilots Association, for binding arbitration.

ASA vice president Sam Watts said Friday it was premature to say how the company would respond before the mediation board offers to appoint an arbitrator.

SkyWest bought Atlantic Southeast Airlines in September 2005 from Delta Air Lines Inc., which filed for bankruptcy that same month. The acquisition more than doubled SkyWest's overall passenger capacity and boosted revenue.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines is one of five regional carriers that flies as Delta Connections under contracts with Delta Air Lines.

Capt. Duane E. Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said a federal mediator called off negotiations in May because the Delta Connection pilots and Atlantic Southeast Airlines were too far apart on contract issues. Informal talks failed to resolve key issues as recently as Aug. 31.

"It is our judgment that further mediation will not result in an agreement," Woerth said Friday.

Bernskoetter said starting salary for Delta Connection co-pilots was less than $19,000 a year, while senior pilots can earn $100,000. Watts said those figures "sound correct" but he couldn't immediately verify them.

The Air Line Pilots Association wouldn't reveal how much of a pay raise it was seeking, but Bernskoetter said the figure was less than 10 percent.

"They're asking for more than the company has indicated we would be able to afford," said Watts, who without disclosing specifics said the company's offer to 1,600 Delta Connection pilots "is based on our desire to reach an agreement and keep us competitive in the regional industry."

The union also is seeking changes in work rules that can leave Delta Connection pilots grounded far from home, waiting for a new assignment. Bernskoetter said it wasn't unusual for pilots to be grounded between flights for up to 36 hours, earning standby pay of $1.50 an hour.

"We're sitting on our butt in a hotel somewhere," Bernskoetter said. "We're saying, 'use the crews more efficiently.'"

Bernskoetter said the union was negotiating with Atlantic Southeast Airlines, "but they get their marching orders from SkyWest."

SkyWest officials referred The Associated Press on Friday to Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

SkyWest reported earning $73.8 million for the first half of 2006 from combined operations, up from $43.5 million for the same period last year. SkyWest and ASA serve 285 cities in North America and the Caribbean, running 2,464 flights daily, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

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