PHI reaches agreement with striking helo pilots

 - December 8, 2006, 7:41 AM

The labor union representing helicopter pilots employed by PHI voted November 10 to end a two-month-long strike against the company. The work stoppage, which at its peak involved nearly half of PHI’s pilot workforce, was the first helicopter pilots’ strike in U.S. history.

The New Iberia, La.-based Local 108 chapter of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), with headquarters in New York City, stated on its Web site that its executive board made an “unconditional offer to return to work” immediately. In the statement, the union told pilots that it made the offer “because it provides the best possible protection of your rights.”

The union also stated that it has notified PHI of its intentions and is awaiting a response, including procedures for returning to work.

In its third-quarter financial report, released November 9, PHI indicated that 237 of the company’s 565 pilots walked out on September 20, and that 176 remained on strike one week later. The company stated that as a result of the strike, flight hours declined by about 15 percent in the domestic oil and gas segment, with a resulting decline in revenues of $2.2 million. Similarly, PHI reported that flight operations decreased by about 10 percent in the air medical segment during the period, with an associated revenue decline of $800,000.

PHI estimated that the company would see a reduction in revenues of up to $5 million through the end of October. It anticipated improvements in revenue would begin last month.

In a letter to its members posted on the Local 108 Web site during the strike, the union stated: “This strike is not about money. We were actually very close on the money when negotiations ended, but the company would not agree to full retroactive pay and the union members could not accept this.”

PHI CEO and human resources director Richard Rovinelli told AIN, “We have no comment” in response to the union’s statement. Rovinelli did not return calls requesting a response to the union’s decision to end the strike.

OPEIU general counsel Mel Schwarzwald told AIN, “What we’re looking for is a new contract, and PHI is obligated to continue bargaining with us. We think returning to work will lead to meetings and to a new contract.” He said that no timeline has been set for resolution of the union’s numerous issues with PHI, which include disputes over salary and benefits packages.