Mesaba Braces for Possible Strike

 - January 31, 2007, 4:16 AM

Minneapolis-based Mesaba Aviation has until January 10 to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement with its pilots or face the prospect of a strike. Last month the airline received a letter from the National Mediation Board indicating the start of a 30-day “cooling-off period” in its contract negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, ALPA could legally call a strike beginning January 10 at 12:01 am EST.

The union wants pay raises for its pilots, whose salaries start at $17,000 a year and rise to $24,000 after three years under a concessionary deal struck in 1996. Another issue remains the airline’s refusal to discuss merging the pilot groups at Mesaba and fellow subsidiary Big Sky Airlines, whose nonunionized flight crews, according to ALPA, represent a threat to its members’ job security.

Mesaba’s bargaining position, meanwhile, appears increasingly untenable, as it desperately tries to reach new terms with Northwest Airlines for a new regional jet services agreement under which it would continue to fly 31 Avro RJs. For the second time in as many months the companies agreed to extend Northwest’s termination notice period, this time to February 29 from December 15, giving Mesaba time to analyze whether the cost changes resulting in whatever deal it strikes with its pilots will preclude it from accepting Northwest’s demands for rate concessions. If Northwest issues a notice of early termination by February 29, Mesaba will lose its Avro flying on June 30.