After months of insisting contract negotiations were making progress, Allegiant Air's chief operating officer sent a harshly worded letter this week to the airline's 500 pilots accusing their union of negotiating in bad faith.
"It is clear that (the union) remains uninterested in finding common ground, and uninterested in working with us to reach a deal that will give each of you a substantial pay increase, enhance benefits and greater opportunities for growth," said Allegiant COO Steve Harfst.
"The union continues to pursue a perplexing strategy of attempting to inflict economic harm on Allegiant and our team members, instead of advancing negotiations," he said. "We take the negotiations process very seriously. But we are increasingly concerned that (the union) representatives remain singularly focused on harming Allegiant and its employees."
The letter marks a change in tone by Allegiant in negotiations, though the company said it still does not agree with union officials who portray negotiations as being at an impasse. Such an impasse is a necessary step for pilots to receive federal approval to strike.
Harfst said in the letter both sides entered a mediation session Tuesday but that the Teamsters union, representing pilots, indicated it was not ready to talk. Later in the day, the union then presented proposals identical to those presented two months earlier, Harfst said.
Those proposals had apparently been rejected by the airline, which had already made "substantive responses" to them. Harfst did not provide detail in the letter about what the proposals were.
Union officials, meantime, criticized the airline's portrayal of negotiations.
"Allegiant executives continue to try to shortchange pilots and passengers while building company profits," the union said. "Time and again, Allegiant has brought proposals to the bargaining table that are non-starters because they undermine standards across the industry and will continue to result in high turnover at the company. We need Allegiant to get serious about a contract that recognizes the work of the pilots and prioritizes retention for an experienced team."
The union has previously asked the National Mediation Board to withdraw from negotiations. The board has not granted its approval, though it does not comment on pending mediation and has not said why it will not declare that negotiations are at an impasse.
A withdrawal from negotiations due to an impasse would allow outstanding contract issues to be decided by a neutral arbitrator. But if neither side agrees to third-party arbitration, the union has 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.
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.
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Contact William R. Levesque at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Times_Levesque.