Midwest pilots brace for pain

    The Midwest Airlines pilots do not plan to even vote on the troubled company’s demands that would slash their pay by up to 65 percent, according to Jay Schnedorf, a captain and chairman of the Midwest unit of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

    Schnedorf told SBT, "There will be no vote on their proposal. It’s unacceptable on its face. We are planning a counter-proposal to present back to the company … We’ve told them (company officials) their demands are unacceptable."

    Midwest Airlines is demanding that pilots take pay cuts of 45 to 65 percent. Schnedorf said a junior captain’s annual salary would drop from $120,000 to $31,000.

    With a wife and two children, a pilot earning $31,000 would qualify for the Wisconsin BadgerCare health care program for the working poor, at taxpayers’ expense, Schnedorf said.

    A Midwest senior captain’s salary would drop from $150,000 to $79,000 under the company’s proposal, he said.

    The company already has furloughed 35 of its 400 pilots and plans to cut its roster of pilots down to 200, Schnedorf said.

    Schnedorf noted that the pilots took "deep concessions" to keep the Oak Creek-based company afloat in 2003.

    "I made more than $35,000 flying for the company in 1995, with better benefits," Schnedorf said.
    The Midwest chapter of the pilots union will meet Thursday morning to discuss their options, Schnedorf said.

    Midwest also is demanding that union flight attendants take pay cuts of 34 to 56 percent.
    Midwest officials have said the cuts are needed to help the company avoid filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    The majority owner of Midwest’s Air Group Inc., the parent company of Midwest Airlines, is TPG Capital of Fort Worth, Texas. Northwest Airlines Corp. owns a 47-percent stake in the venture.

    "With the resources these owners have, TPG and Northwest, if they want to get a deal done, they clearly have the ability to buy the time that is needed to do the right things," Schnedorf said.

    Meanwhile, "for sale" signs are popping up like dandelions in front of condominiums throughout Oak Creek, as pilots and flight attendants prepare to lose their jobs or take pay cuts that would prevent them from staying in their homes.

    Schnedorf said he spent his Fourth of July weekend painting his house, preparing it for sale.

    "Pilots are doing several things, looking at how they can cope with this. They all are going through the same things with their homes, their wives and their children," Schnedorf said. "It’s a tragic situation, the human impact that’s going on."

    The pain inflicted by soaring fuel costs is being felt throughout the airline industry.

    Discount carrier AirTran Airways told its employees Monday that the company will cut 480 jobs, or more than 5 percent of its workforce, by Sept. 6.

    Last week, American Airlines’ parent company, AMR Corp., announced it plans to cut nearly 7,000 full-time employees, or 8 percent of its total staff, by the end of 2008. The reductions follow the airline’s report that it may cut up to 900 flight attendant jobs.

    Meanwhile, Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran’s leadership team is keenly watching Midwest’s tactical decisions less than a year after Midwest had rebuffed AirTran’s hostile takeover bid.

    "We’ll keep a close eye on the competitive market and take a look at what might change with the Midwest pulldown," said AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver.

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.

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