Saturday, June 16, 2001

Comair vote to begin Tuesday

Leaders of pilots union 'hopeful'

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Comair's striking pilots will start voting on a tentative contract on Tuesday, with results to be announced late Friday.

        Union leaders said the voting will begin after an informational “road show” presented to pilots based in Cincinnati. Another session will be held for pilots based at the airline's second-largest hub, in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday. The telephone vote will conclude Friday at 2 p.m.

        Paul Lackie, spokesman for Comair's branch of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the results should be known later that day, and that union officials were “hopeful” the 1,350 members would ratify the agreement. That could allow the Erlanger-based carrier to return to the skies by mid-July.

        “The pilots were looking for a reason to say yes last time, and they're looking for a reason to say yes this time,” said Mr. Lackie, referring to a previous settlement offer rejected by the pilots after the union's governing board also rejected it.

        The four-member board approved this deal, however, which is believed to more closely meet the pilots' demands for work rules, retirement, salaries and retroactive pay.

        Union and airline officials Friday were still writing the contract's final language, which will include a back-to-work agreement framing how the pilots will be brought back on the payroll. The agreement also will cover how or if the company will reinstate the 400 pilot positions that were eliminated.

        A yes vote would end the strike, which hits 83 days today, tying it with a flight engineers strike at Eastern Airlines in 1962 for the 30th-longest in airline history.

        Parent company Delta Air Lines on Friday said the strike is a major factor in what it says will be a losing financial quarter. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it would lose between $140 million and $160 million in the second quarter. That equates to diluted losses per share of between $1.15 and $1.30.

        The company's stock closed at $42.95 Friday, up 19 cents.

        On Wednesday, Delta's 9,700 pilots will finish a ratification vote on another tentative agreement, reached April 27. The pilots — including about 1,000 based at Delta's second-largest hub, at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport — have been holding a vote on the contract since May 22.

        If the Comair pilots approve their deal, they won't be alone at the airport's Concourse C. The airport board is scheduled to approve a new contract Monday with Mesa Airlines to use three gates at the 48-gate facility, which before the strike was used exclusively by Comair. The airport owns Concourse C and leases it to the airlines.

        On July 8, Phoenix-based Mesa (the nation's 11th-largest regional carrier) is to begin flying six routes served by Comair before the strike. Michael Mullaney, airport manager of commercial and business development, said both companies were close to an agreement that would allow Mesa to use Comair ground employees.

        “It's my understanding that they would have a nominal Mesa work force, which is indicative of a new startup,” said Mr. Mullaney.

        Mesa chairman and chief executive officer Jonathan Ornstein would not comment Friday, nor would Comair officials. Many experts have said Mesa could eventually become part of the Delta Connection network. The airline already flies under the US Airways and United Express names.

        The possibility came as good news to former Comair workers laid off as a result of the strike. Comair had let 2,400 workers go, including 1,600 local employees, and many had been wondering how quickly they could return to work.

        The airline has said it would wait until after the ratification vote to announce its plans, but sources have said Comair was hoping to be back in the air by July 15 or sooner.

        “My old manager actually called me yesterday after the agreement was announced, asking when I could come back to work,” said Brenda Ryan, 41, a former ramp worker from Newport who was laid off on May 13. “They want to get some people back right away because of this Mesa thing, and then my manager said they were hoping to get almost everybody back by Sept. 1.”


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