Cincinnati Enquirer
November 11, 2006
By Alexander Coolidge

The head of Comair's pilots union said Friday it was preparing for the possibility of a strike as concession talks sputtered this week with the bankrupt regional airline.

J.C. Lawson, the head of the union, described Comair as inflexible during two days of negotiations that wrapped up Friday, and for the first time he broached the possibility of a strike.

"Our first choice is a consensual deal and not to strike this airline, but we're pursuing strike preparations," he said, declining to elaborate.

Officials with Comair, which is seeking to cut salaries to lower its costs and get it out of bankruptcy, said a strike would be illegal under the Railway Labor Act that governs airlines. They said they were bargaining in good faith with the pilots.

Both sides are due back at the bargaining table on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Our proposal supports a long-term career path for our pilots and allows Comair to complete its restructuring," spokeswoman Kate Marx said.

Earlier this month, the Erlanger-based carrier asked the bankruptcy court to reject its pilots contract and impose its $15.8 million worth of concessions.

Comair said it would still seek to negotiate a deal but also needed to pursue its legal options before an $8 million raise kicks in for the pilots on Jan 1. A hearing on the request is scheduled for Nov. 27 in New York City.

Legal experts have debated the legality of a strike under airline labor law when a contract is rejected through the bankruptcy process.

Under the law, an airline contract doesn't expire, it only becomes amendable.

Also, unions normally aren't allowed to strike before an exhaustive bargaining and mediation process.

What isn't spelled out in the law is whether a union can be held to the same process if its contract is nullified through bankruptcy.