Still no deal between Allegiant Air and flight attendants

An Allegiant Air jet takes off from McCarran International Airport on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.

Contract negotiations continued this week between flight attendants represented by the Transport Workers Union and Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, with one of the biggest squabbles involving the airline’s use of part-time flight attendants on trips to and from Hawaii.

A federal mediator has been brought to the table to help resolve differences. This is the flight attendants’ first contract with Allegiant. The TWU led a successful drive for representation nearly two years ago.

Union officials criticized Allegiant for hiring part-time flight attendants for its Hawaii flights, claiming that the airline is attempting to skirt the state of Hawaii’s requirement to provide health-care benefits to full-time employees. Last month, representatives of the union sent letters to Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who earlier this month won election to the Senate, complaining about Allegiant’s hiring of part-time flight attendants at its new Honolulu base.

Allegiant flight attendant Debra Petersen-Barber, lead negotiator for TWU Local 577, said flight attendants work a minimum of 14 hours on any trip between the West Coast and Hawaii.

“The fact is, flights to and from Hawaii to the mainland are scheduled to nearly the maximum flight attendant duty period of 14 hours, and we do not believe there is any way for Allegiant to limit a flight attendant to under 20 hours per week,” Petersen-Barber said in her letter.

“We are especially concerned that the state of Hawaii be made aware of the many unpaid hours for which a flight attendants is forced to work, but not credited, due to operational or weather delays,” the letter said.

But Mary Grace Clements, vice president of inflight operations for Allegiant, said the airline is still learning the dynamics of the Hawaii market and there was an appetite for part-time positions when the company recruited flight attendants in Hawaii.

“We feel we have to understand the market to be competitive,” Clements said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to be cost-efficient. But if their hours trigger benefits, we’ll pay for the benefits. We’re very committed to getting a deal done with our flight attendants that’s good for our work group as well as the future of our company.”

At an Allegiant investors event today, Jude Bricker, Allegiant’s senior vice president of planning, said the airline has found that Hawaii is a hyper-seasonal market with high peaks in busy periods, but deep valleys in off times. As a result, Allegiant has been cautious about how it schedules flight attendants.

The airline began nonstop service between Las Vegas and Fresno, Calif., and Honolulu in late June and has other Hawaii routes starting up from Bellingham and Spokane, Wash.; Stockton and Santa Maria, Calif.; Eugene, Ore.; and Boise, Idaho.

The TWU began contract negotiations with the airline the same month that Hawaii service began, a year and a half after the vote for representation.

“We’ve made thoughtful proposals so we can reach an agreement that benefits all parties,” Petersen-Barber said in statement issued by the union. “Mediation should be a tool to bring this process to a rapid conclusion, not an excuse for further delay. In an industry that is measured by on-time performance, nearly two years is an awfully long time to wait for a first contract agreement.”

The union hired a mobile billboard company to drive around Las Vegas for six hours today and planned for it to be parked near Allegiant’s southwest Las Vegas headquarters this morning prior to today's event. The billboard wasn’t there when people arrived, but union officials issued an illustration of it, which mocked Allegiant’s “Travel is our deal” slogan by changing it to “Money is our deal.” The billboard also asks, “Putting profit before people for 39 consecutive quarters?” – a reference to the airline’s earnings performance since 2003.

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