Pilots union leaders representing 400 Hawaiian Airlines pilots formally requested a release from federally mediated contract talks on Oct. 26, insisting negotiations with the carrier's management had reached an impasse.
If the National Mediation Board agrees to the request, the pilots could move toward what the Air Line Pilots Association called the first walkout in Hawaiian's 80-year history.
"The company continues to insist that its present business plan requires significant sacrifice from pilots and other employees," ALPA President John Prater said in a statement. "That position is not justified by either the competitive environment, the company's place in the industry or its present financial condition.
"There is simply no reason to believe that the company will change its position without the imposition of a deadline and the possible release from mediation," he added. "The association believes that further mediation is not likely to lead to an agreement and that further bargaining ... will be futile."
In response to the union's request for a release from mediation, Hawaiian's management issued an Oct. 26 statement saying, "ALPA's request is nothing more than posturing for negotiations, which continue with the oversight of the National Mediation Board. Hawaiian remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with its pilots union."
In its statement, ALPA said the "final straw" came when Hawaiian recently announced its $30.7 million net profit during the third quarter of 2009 while continuing to ask its pilots "to fund pay increases with productivity savings and work rule changes."
The union asked the mediation board to end its efforts and move negotiations into arbitration. Should either ALPA or Hawaiian decline to enter binding arbitration, both sides would be released from mediation and would begin a 30-day cooling-off period, after which Hawaiian's pilots could strike.
Negotiations between Hawaiian management and the pilots union, focused primarily on pay increases, work rules and benefits, began three years ago.
"Our pilots have worked under a bankruptcy-era contract for almost five years, while the airline made more and more money," Captain Eric Sampson, chairman of ALPA's Hawaiian group, said in a statement. "Every time the company needed help, we stepped up to the plate. We helped them emerge from bankruptcy, we made acquiring new Airbus A-330s possible by agreeing to fly those larger planes for the same rate we fly our current Boeing aircraft, and we waived work rules to fly more hours so the company could fill the void left when Aloha and ATA stopped flying.
"To us, 'ohana' and 'aloha' aren't just company marketing slogans. They mean something," Simpson continued. "We've had enough, and we're stating simply that pilots and other employees have to be rewarded the same way that management rewards itself for the company's unprecedented success and extraordinary financial performance."