Comair, pilots' union to resume contract negotiations

Thursday, April 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HEBRON, Ky. (AP) _ Comair, the nation's second-largest regional airline, and the union representing the airline's striking pilots said they will begin negotiations with federal mediators next week.

Both sides said Wednesday that they have accepted an invitation from the National Mediation Board to meet April 25-27 in Washington.

``Comair is fully prepared to go back to the table and negotiate in the spirit of compromise,'' Comair spokesman Nick Miller said. ``The negotiations will only be productive, however, if the union is willing to compromise on major issues.''

Paul Lackie, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said that compromise works both ways.

``Compromise, by definition, is a two-way street,'' he said. ``It sounds like they are setting preconditions, but we have always said we would meet at any suggested time and place with no preconditions.''

The airline's 1,350 pilots went on strike March 26, a day after negotiations between Comair and the Air Line Pilots Association broke down.

Comair, which is owned by Delta Air Lines, canceled all flights when the strike began.

The striking pilots are seeking higher pay, company-paid retirement, more rest between shifts and pay for non-flying hours when they are on duty.

Under their old contract, beginning pilots _ who functioned as first officers _ were paid $17,000 in the first year and $29,000 in the second. Top-scale pilots made $66,000 a year.

Union members rejected an offer that would have raised the average pay for first officers to $31,500, and for captains to $72,000. Senior captains would make nearly $96,000 a year.

Comair says it cannot afford to pay pilots at the same scale as major airlines that fly bigger jets and receive more revenues.

The pilots and the union have been involved in contract talks since June 1998.

Comair said Monday that it is reducing its fleet by 17 planes and eliminating 200 pilot jobs to save money as the strike continues for the fourth week.

The strike has shut down Comair's flight operation from Maine to Mexico. Comair normally serves 25,000 passengers a day with flights to 95 cities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. It is based at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport and has a hub in Orlando, Fla.

Federal mediators also announced Wednesday that they have resumed contract talks with Delta and its pilots union. The union has said it will strike in 10 days without an agreement or presidential intervention.