Comair Pilots: Will The Union Strike … Should They?

By Robert Mark on December 24th, 2006

The Comair Master Executive Council drew a line in the sand this week over a bankruptcy court’s approval to toss the pilot’s working agreement in the trash. If Comair management does throw out the contract, the pilots have promised a strike. 

No threats, just a simple guarantee. No contract, no work. 

If Comair management isn’t burning the midnight oil to avoid a work stoppage this holiday weekend, they should be. That Comair pilots voted 10 to 1 in favor of a strike should come as no surprise to anyone since these are many of the same pilots who shut the company down for three months in 2001. 

Not surprisingly too, Comair management has threatened to pursue an injunction against the pilots for what it claims would be an illegal strike. 

What seems to have gone unnoticed by aviation pundits, however, is just how often the strike word has been used in written and spoken rhetoric over the past year.
It’s not a coincidence. 

Although there has not been a serious work stoppage in the airline industry since the 2001 Comair strike, the groundwork has been laid for a shutdown at more airlines than simply one Kentucky-based regional carrier. 

Throughout the industry, pilots have simply had enough, especially regional pilots who are still viewed as second-class pilot citizens. They’ve had enough with management demanded givebacks on wage agreements that were meager to begin with, not to mention the added pressure from mainline code-sharing partners who threaten to give their jobs to a cheaper competitor if they don’t tote the line.

So while United pilots build strike committees to fatten their paychecks, Comair and Mesaba pilots have jumped into the battle in order to eat. 

It’s no secret that unions are fairing poorly these days, but some of the blame rests directly with the rank and file themselves, as well as union management. 

Twenty five years ago, it would have been unheard of for union pilots to stand idly by while the company trained non-union help on board revenue flights. But that’s exactly what Northwest tried to counter a possible flight attendant strike. Those days are over. 

Although the Air Line Pilots Association has tried a non-combative, non-strike kind of strategy over the past ten years, many pilots – both mainline and regional – seem to have finally recognized the handwriting on the wall. Each time you give back something you’ve won, you also step back in labor relations losing a little more influence each time. Givebacks don’t satisfy management; they only feed their hunger for more.
A hundred years Sam Gompers said, “I hope the day will never come when the workers surrender their right to strike.” So will someone please tell me why a work stoppage is illegal if the company destroys the bargaining agreement? Certainly a strike is never risk free. Ask a former PATCO controller and they’ll tell you a strike is only illegal if you lose. 

I think pilots have finally realized that there is only so far a labor group can back up before it falls over the edge and ceases to be a labor organization. And regional pilots had little backup room to begin with. 

Hopefully, they’ve also begun to realize that a union means standing together … regional pilots, mainline pilots and even members of other unions who affect the pilot profession. 

Watch for pilots to turn the heat up even higher in 2007.


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5 Responses to “Comair Pilots: Will The Union Strike … Should They?”

  1. Norman Rhodes Says:

    Weird isn’t it. Here we are in the midst of a looming pilot shortage and our managers (worldwide) are trying to manipulate our contracts to work us harder and erode our benefits/T&Cs. Here in the UK we are seeing a major assault against our pensions and terms and conditions of service.

    What is hardening pilots hearts over here, is that the very people who have enjoyed exceptional careers and stellar retirement packages, are those that are doing their very best to screw those they will shortly leave behind… for share options and bonuses.

    Does this ring true in the US?

    Somerset, UK

    PS: Great Blog!

  2. rob Says:

    I don’t think weird quite covers it Norm. I came up through the regional airline system here in the states and mainline pilots always treated regional pilots like dirt. And they still do for the most part.

    I remember trying to plead our regional pilot case to the then ALPA president 15 years ago and he wouldn’t give any of us the time of day.

    I’m convinced the only reason they seem to care now about the Mesabas and the Comairs here is that regional pilots represent a larger percentage of ALPA members than in years past. I still don’t honestly believe ALPA management cares two scoots about regional pilots.

    Of course, the fact that so many pilots – I can say this because I am one – are rather arrogant and condescending at times doesn’t help anyone.

    But I thought this was pretty much a U.S. problem. It seems that is not the case. What is your experience in this realm?

    Thanks for the thoughts on the blog too. Still getting my feet wet with it.

  3. Norman Rhodes Says:


    I’m talking more about line pilots who ‘ascend’ to management really. It is this particular group who we are starting to direct our contempt at. Our Director of Flight Operations who is very close to retirement just cashed in his share options as there has been a peak in our share price – he took home $1.9M+
    Good luck to him in one sense-but he earned it by having his team trash our conditions of service and attacking our pensions.

    Our BALPA are not bad on the regional airline score because they focus on membership expansion. Getting BALPA recognition from the various companies is their goal and beyond that improving the pilots lot comes a healthy second.

    Blogs – same deal for me, just started and wondering (in quite moments) if it is all worth it? Is it vanity publishing or is there really some point to it? I haven’t decided yet but it is quite enjoyable.

    Good luck.

  4. Rob Mark Says:

    Management folks completely ignoring their roots are a problem in a lot of industries unfortunately.

    When I worked for FAA I used to kid the managers that when they became superviors they seemed to begin swallowing “stupid” pills before they made serious decisions (probably why I’m not there any longer!!).

    Kind of like FAA banning portable radios at control towers here in the states and then being surprised that controllers don’t hear the latest severe weather alerts, which of course, they used to hear on the portablke radios in the tower cabs.

    Of course, when I attended FAA management school myself, I started to see and feel some of the brainwashing myself. They said I made some dumb decisions, but I certainly didn’t realize it at the time.

    On the pilot side, I’ve seldom watched many people succeeed in management because the things that seem to make us astounding aviators make us really awful managers.

    Seems as if we too often try to manage people the way we manage the resources during a flight and that simply doesn’t work well.

  5. Cornholio Says:

    There is no pilot shortage. There never will be. Regional wages will always be depressed because there is always someone willing to work for free to get hours to move to the majors.

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