Deal would end three years of talks for Mesaba pilots

Monday, January 12th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Mesaba pilots can put an end to nearly three years of contract talks by ratifying a deal that would bring their pay and benefits in line with other regional carriers.

Spokesman Dave Ricci of the Air Line Pilots Association said the deal reached early Sunday morning ``puts all of our big issues in the same range with what we consider our peer groups,'' including pilots at Comair and Air Wisconsin.

Annual pay for Comair pilots, who ratified a contract in June 2001 after a strike, ranges from about $20,000 for a new hire to about $98,000 for a captain.

Wages for Mesaba pilots under their old contract ranged from about $17,000 to about $85,000. Union leaders said more than half of Mesaba pilots were making less than $35,000 for full-time work, making them among the lowest-paid among regional carriers.

Ricci wouldn't release details of the agreement until Mesaba's 844 pilots have a chance to review them. The proposed contract will be presented over the next week to pilots, who are expected to vote on ratification this month.

The deal, which also includes improved work rules, averted a strike that could have threatened the survival of one of the nation's largest regional carriers and hurt Northwest Airlines, the nation's fourth-largest carrier. Mesaba flies passengers from mostly smaller cities in 28 states and Canada to Northwest's hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis.

Eagan, Minn.-based Mesaba resumed nearly full operations Sunday after canceling all flights Saturday.

The agreement came after talks had stretched more than a day past a strike deadline. Mesaba pilots hoped to avoid the fate of Comair pilots, whose 2001 strike shut down the Delta Air Lines subsidiary. In October, the Comair pilots rejected a request that they reopen the contract and consider pay cuts.

Mesaba flies only for Northwest, which owns 28 percent of the smaller carrier, provides its airplanes and handles its reservations.

Mesaba had said it needed to keep its costs flat to continue flying for Northwest, which has another regional carrier, Pinnacle Airlines.

Mesaba President Joe Spanjers said the airline looks forward to continuing a good working relationship with its pilots and the union.

``This deal reflects the professionalism and contributions of our pilots and how important they are to the success of our airline,'' Spanjers said.