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Mesaba Pilots Authorize Strike

October 28, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Mesaba Airlines pilots have authorized union leaders to call a strike at one of the nation’s largest regional carriers, the Air Line Pilots Association announced Tuesday.

ALPA said the vote was 98 percent in favor of strike authorization. The dispute centers on compensation, job security, work rules and retirement.

``Our pilots have sent a clear and bold message to management,″ said Tom Wychor, a pilot and chairman of the Mesaba unit of ALPA. ``If we can’t come to terms with management on a new agreement that recognizes our contributions to this company, our pilots are prepared to strike.″

Mesaba, with 850 pilots, flies as a regional partner of Northwest Airlines, ferrying passengers from smaller cities into Northwest’s hubs in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit and Memphis. The carrier serves 109 cities in 28 states and Canada.

``Our goal is a fair and equitable contract, not a strike,″ Wychor said. ``The bargaining process needs a deadline so that we can achieve this goal.″

Pilots would not be able to begin a 30-day countdown to a strike until released from mediation by the National Mediation Board, which oversees airline and railroad labor disputes. Pilots asked the board for release in August, but the board has not yet responded.

Mesaba said it hoped an agreement could be reached through negotiations.

``Our goal remains to reach an agreement without any interruption in operations, but we must achieve a contract that allows Mesaba Airlines to survive and grow amid the current industry challenges,″ said Joe Spanjers, Mesaba’s president and chief operating officer.

ALPA said Mesaba pilots agreed to a concessionary contract in 1996, saving the company more than $10 million in labor costs to date. The union also said starting salaries for Mesaba pilots, who operate both jet and turboprop airliners, is less than $17,000 per year. After three years that salary increases to $24,000.

In addition to the contract issues, Mesaba pilots also are upset because Mesaba’s holding company, MAIR Holdings Inc., purchased Montana-based Big Sky Airlines last year and management has refused to discuss merging the two pilot groups.

Mesaba, meanwhile, has its own fears. The carrier said earlier this month that Northwest might terminate its contract with Mesaba to fly 36 Avro RJ-85 jets, which could mean the loss of 40 percent of the regional carrier’s revenue and jobs.

The airline and the union have been in contract negotiations since June 2001. A federal mediator joined the talks in August 2002.

The strike authorization vote was released the same day that Mesaba released second-quarter results showing net income of $3.9 million, or 19 cents a share. That was up 66 percent over a year earlier, when Mesaba earned nearly $2.4 million, or 12 cents a share.

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On the Net:

Air Line Pilots Association: http://www.alpa.org

Mesaba Airlines: http://www.mesaba.com

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