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Allegiant Air pilots want out of contract negotiations

The pilots’ union announced it has asked for permission to leave mediated contract negotiations with Allegiant Air. This could clear the way for a strike, which would affect St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, where 95 percent of traffic is carried by Allegiant.
The pilots’ union announced it has asked for permission to leave mediated contract negotiations with Allegiant Air. This could clear the way for a strike, which would affect St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, where 95 percent of traffic is carried by Allegiant.
Published Oct. 16, 2015

Relations between Allegiant Air and its pilots' union have taken another hostile turn, with the Teamsters asking the National Mediation Board for permission to withdraw from mediated contract negotiations, the union announced Thursday.

The union says three years of negotiations are at an impasse.

A withdrawal would allow outstanding contract issues to be decided by a neutral arbitrator, and if neither side agrees to third-party arbitration, the union said, it might clear the way for a strike.

Any labor unrest that interrupts service would certainly have a large impact on St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, where 95 percent of passenger traffic is carried by Allegiant. The airport forecasts a record 1.6 million people will use the airport this year.

"Despite Allegiant being the most profitable airline in the world, management believes that the pilots should agree to work for wages and benefits at levels below our peers' at other airlines," said Allegiant pilot Cameron Graff, who is a union leader.

In a letter to employees, Steve Harfst, chief operating officer of the Las Vegas-based budget airline, dismissed the union request as the Teamsters' "latest scheme without substance." The airline released a copy of the letter to the media, saying it "dismantles" union arguments.

The letter said significant progress has been made in negotiations on a contract, noting that the company has made proposals that would raise pilot pay and benefits.

"We are nowhere near an impasse," Harfst said. "Negotiations are never easy. … But with a willing partner, we can reach an agreement that is fair and recognizes the significant contribution of our pilots to Allegiant's success."

Dan Wells, president of the Airline Professionals Association Teamsters Local 1224, said that almost no progress has been made and that the airline wants to break the union.

"That's their goal," Wells said. "It's the very definition of bad-faith bargaining."

This is the union's second request to the mediation board that it withdraw from negotiations, the first coming in January. The board, which declined comment, did not respond at that time to the request.

More than 98 percent of Allegiant's 473 pilots voted in January to authorize a strike, but a walkout was later blocked by a federal judge. The union has indicated that a release from negotiations by the National Mediation Board could clear the way for an eventual strike, assuming the sides refused to go to arbitration.

Allegiant is earning its biggest profits ever despite a difficult summer in which a series of incidents raised questions about the airline's safety and maintenance. Three Allegiant aircraft made emergency landings at St. Pete-Clearwater in June and July. Allegiant said it has one of the best safety records in the industry and told the Federal Aviation Administration it could find no defect with the aircraft explaining the odor flight attendants noted.

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432. Follow @Times_Levesque.