Union pilots at Evergreen Airlines authorize strike

Unionized pilots at Evergreen International Airlines — a cargo airline headquartered in McMinnville, Oregon — voted overwhelmingly to strike if an agreement is not reached with management. Bargaining for a new union contract has been going on, without success, for six years.

Evergreen International Airlines is a cargo airline, operating a fleet of Boeing 747s out of New York (JFK) and Travis Air Force Base, California. The company is a subsidiary of privately-held Evergreen International Aviation, which also owns Evergreen Helicopters, Inc.

The saga began when pilots at Evergreen International Airlines formed their own independent union, The Aviators’ Group (TAG) secured a union contract in 1999. The contract ran through the end of 2004.

Bargaining on a new contract began in 2004, but went nowhere. Mediated talks began in 2005, supervised by the National Mediation Board (NMB) — the federal agency that regulates railroad and airline union issues. Still no progress. In 2007, TAG members voted overwhelmingly to merge into the much larger Air Line Pilots Association, becoming ALPA Local 118.

ALPA, the world’s largest pilot union, represents nearly 53,000 pilots at 38 airlines in the United States and Canada. But bargaining similarly failed to achieve liftoff under ALPA.

In April 2010, the union submitted a tentative two-year agreement to members that was largely a continuation of previous terms, without raises or improvements. That agreement was a compromise, after management — citing the company’s heavy debt load — demanded concessions. ALPA held a ratification vote on the agreement in August 2010: 92 percent of members took part in the vote, and the result was 96 percent against the agreement.

In October, the ALPA executive council at Evergreen passed a resolution declaring a lack of confidence in airline upper management and flight operations management. An ALPA press statement said Evergreen pilots are near their limit of frustration and dissatisfaction with management.

ALPA held the strike authorization vote, and ballots were counted Jan. 7. The vote was 97 percent in favor of strike authorization, with more than 86 percent of the company’s pilots and flight engineers participating in the polling.

“We certainly want a contract, not a strike,” said flight engineer William Fink, ALPA’s Evergreen unit chairman, in a press statement. “That has been our goal since day one more than six years ago — but the new agreement must provide our members with industry-standard wages, work rules, and benefits. We deserve no less.”

The parties are tentatively scheduled to go back to the negotiating table in February. ALPA can request arbitration from the NMB at any time. If the NMB agrees, either party can reject arbitration. In that event, a 30-day cooling-off period would commence, after which crewmembers could legally strike at Evergreen.

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