Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilots upset over slow talks

By Justin Boron

About 30 Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilots trudged in front of the company's Atlanta headquarters with picket signs Monday to display their disappointment in the progress of contract negotiations that they say have stalled in the preliminary phase.

The labor agreement between the pilots and ASA, a regional carrier for Delta Air Lines, became amenable in 2002.

But talks have been sluggish, said Capt. Rick Bernskoetter, a four-year pilot for the company and the spokesperson for the informational protest.

"They mire us in minutia," he said.

Bernskoetter said management deliberately slows the talks by coming back with minute grammatical or punctuation changes to proposals submitted by the Air Line Pilots Association on behalf of the ASA pilots.

Management for the company considers the progress on the contract to be adequate and in line with past labor negotiations between airlines and pilots.

A spokesperson for the company characterized the pace of the negotiations as being on an "aggressive schedule."

"There is progress being made," said Kent Landers, the spokesperson for ASA.

What stands in the way, he said, are piles of open proposals that ASA management worries may make the airline noncompetitive.

Monday was the first day of picketing. The pilot group will continue on Wednesday and Friday of this week.

Pilots walked in silence aside the reflection coming off the glassy ASA headquarters, allowing the vitriol of their signs to speak their message.

One sign read, "The management grinch can't steal my Christmas!"

Since a federal law prohibits a work stoppage, the informational picketing is a viable alternative to get management's attention, Bernskoetter said.

In May of 2004, negotiations entered into mediation under the supervision of the National Mediation Board, which was created in 1934 to resolve labor disputes in the railroad and airline industry.

But only about one-third of the contract sections, which ASA pilots want amended, have been tentatively agreed to by management, said ASA Capt. Bob Arnold, the principal union representative for the company's pilots.

"Management's negotiators don't appear to have the authority to make decisions nor do they seem to have any tangible interest in reaching a deal. We have very little to show for the sizable amount of time and money both parties have expended for this effort," he said.

ASA pilots have an agreement with management separate from the one Delta pilots have.

They also make significantly less money than do Delta pilots, who recently agreed to a 32 percent pay cut.

News Daily Staff Photographer Zach Porter contributed to this article.