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Sun, Aug 30, 2009

Amerijet Continues Operations Despite Strike

Cargo Airline Amerijet Vows To Keep Flying Despite Teamster Strike

Amerijet International is vowing to continue flight operations despite the "unsuccessful" result of negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). The quest for a new collective bargaining agreement covering its flight crewmembers has been unfulfilled for the better part of five years and as a result, the IBT has elected to call a strike at Amerijet.

Amerijet and IBT 'remain at a standstill... with both parties at an impasse on the central issues.'

"We are disappointed that IBT's inability to reach a fair agreement has resulted in their decision to strike," said Pamela Rollins, SVP Business Development "the demands were simply not justified in any respect, particularly given the current competitive and economic environment."

"While we regret IBT's decision to strike, we have prepared for this contingency," said Rollins. Amerijet has continued to operate its published flight schedule and has experienced no interruption of service to its customers.

The IBT, however, see the matter in a wholly different light. It claims that 'the crewmembers of the Ft. Lauderdale-based all-cargo airline have been attempting to negotiate for a first contract since early in 2004. Over 5-1/2 years, they have faced management-based attempts to decertify the union, unilateral wage and benefit cuts and increased pressure to remove the legally elected union from the property.'

IBT adds that Amerijet management's 'refusal to bargain in good faith' resulted in the appointment of a federal mediator by the National Mediation Board (NMB) two years ago. Amerijet's continued bad faith bargaining led to the imposition of a 30-day cooling-off period by the NMB, the expiration of which allows either party to engage in self-help activities if an agreement is not reached. The 30-day cooling off period expired Thursday morning at 12:01.

"The NMB very rarely imposes cooling-off periods and mediation "releases" enabling labor unions to engage in self-help activities," said Teamster spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez. "The NMB's decision to impose such a cooling-off period and release reflects Amerijet's complete bad faith conduct throughout this 5-1/2 year ordeal. Over the last several days, the NMB, along with the union, continued to urge management to respond in good faith and come to an agreement. Late last night, Amerijet management broke off further negotiations and walked out of the NMB-sponsored contract talks.

"The key hang-up in the contract talks involved Amerijet's insistence on a five-year contract without any raise in the last 20 months of the contract's term. The company also refused the union's demand to restore severe wage and benefit cuts that the company imposed earlier this year, during a previous NMB-directed negotiating meeting in Washington, D.C.," Gonzalez said.

"In addition to operating the 'Zero G' aircraft that charges passengers $5,000 for a weightless flight experience, Amerijet pilots and flight engineers also fly Boeing 727 jets. They operate an air cargo link to many Caribbean islands and nations, carrying vital goods to individuals and companies who rely on this air bridge for critical air service in the region to and from the United States," said Gonzalez.

"Prior to suffering a unilateral 10 percent wage cut imposed in March 2009, the Amerijet pilots and flight engineers had been working at the same pay rate since 1999. It is a pay rate that is not only at or below the poverty level, it is almost identical to the pay of the regional pilots who were killed in the crash of Colgan Air 3407 in Buffalo this year.

"The average Amerijet first officer's pay was $36,000 a year before the 10 percent cut earlier this year," said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez also said that Amerijet does not provide basic sanitary facilities on the airplanes and does not provide food and water to their pilots and flight engineers flying long, hot and exhausting duty days throughout the Caribbean and South America.

"Amerijet's refusal to provide for even basic physiological needs and their insistence that even further pay penalties be imposed on the pilots and flight engineers if they call in sick for a flight is a testament to the mindset that has created the problems facing the airline industry and the need for change," Gonzalez said.

Federal aviation regulations specifically prohibit crewmembers from flying while sick, a factor that has been cited as a potential contributing factor in the Buffalo crash that killed fifty seven people earlier this year.

The Teamsters proposed a four-year contract with a reinstatement of the arbitrary 10 percent wage cut imposed earlier this year by the company in its continued effort to force the crewmembers to dump the union. The Teamsters also imposed a $250 lump sum payment on signing of a contract and a 3 percent pay raise for the three following years.

Amerijet's final offer was a five-year demand with no raise in the final 20 months of the contract; along with the further imposition of a five-hour-per-day pay cut for any crewmember who called in sick for a trip.

"In the end, the losers here are not just the customers, but the countries of the Caribbean that count on critical and timely air cargo service as well," said Gonzalez. "Time-critical shipments will be lost due to the refusal of an airline management that puts their personal gain ahead of their customers. We have received commitments from other air cargo carrier pilot groups and other transport-related unions to honor the Amerijet pilots' and flight engineers' picket lines.

The Airline Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 769, represents the flight deck crewmembers employed by Amerijet International, a cargo airline that operates primarily to and from the Miami International Airport and the Caribbean Islands and South America. Teamsters Local 769 represents over 8,000 employees and families throughout South Florida.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, Amerijet had negative net income of $1.3 million in 2007, but earned $402,000 in 2008, largely due to a smaller loss in the third quarter and increased earnings in the fourth. The company took in $152.6 million in operating revenue in 2008.

Amerijet recently acquired SRX Transcontinental, a company that manages ground handling services in Central Asia and owns a Uzbekistan-based cargo airline, as well as a controlling share in Nation's Express, an express truck charter company based in Charlotte, N.C.

As of the fourth quarter of 2008, Amerijet employed a total of 560 people in its air cargo business, including 58 pilots.

FMI: www.amerijet.com

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