The stormy relationship between Republic Airways Holdings Inc. and its pilots’ union has calmed on one front and grown turbulent on another.
Indianapolis-based Republic has withdrawn a request for an injunction to halt a website maintained by Teamsters Local 357 that the company alleged was scaring away pilot applicants.
Republic had sought the injunction as part of a federal lawsuit it filed March 28 in Indianapolis against the Plainfield-based local representing about 2,000 pilots at Republic’s regional airlines. Chautauqua Airlines, Shuttle America and Republic Airlines fly on a contract basis for the major carriers.
The website at issue, RAHcontractnow.org, paints a bleak picture of life at Republic. The site blasts company policies for pilots and claims it can take five years before new pilot hires can upgrade to positions that pay more than $32,000 a year, for example.
Republic alleges the union misrepresents the situation, seeks to frighten applicants, and is “continuing to damage the profitability of Republic.”
The company cited one portion of the site, in particular: “If the pilots should strike while you are on probation, you will face a very difficult choice: strike with us and be fired by the company, or cross a picket line and earn the black mark of a scab.”
But Republic has since told the court it seeks to withdraw the request for injunction, citing pilot furloughs at competitor Pinnacle Airlines and other regional carriers that put more pilots in the hiring pool.
“We are still, however, concerned about the falsehoods and defamatory statements toward the company,” said Republic spokesman Peter Kowalchuk.
Teamsters Local 357’s president, pilot Craig Moffatt, scoffed at the reason for pulling the injunction request, suggesting it was a face-saving measure by a company that realized it couldn’t prevail in court.
“It’s protected free speech. It made the lawsuit ludicrous,” Moffatt said.
The suit, which the union wants to have summarily dismissed, remains pending in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.
The two sides are in negotiations, through the National Mediation Board, to hammer out a pilots’ contract to replace one that became amendable in late 2007.
Meanwhile, the union has a suit pending against Republic in federal court in Denver. The suit filed last year seeks to invalidate agreements Republic’s Frontier Airlines made with the Frontier Airline Pilots Association just days before pilots ditched FAPA by voting for the Teamsters as their collective bargaining agent.
Republic’s agreement with FAPA, part of a $120 million plan to reduce costs at Frontier, called for postponing wage increases and for other concessions in exchange for pilots receiving a future equity stake in Frontier.
In court documents, the company dubs the pact as a “commercial agreement,” with FAPAInvest LLC.
FAPAInvest, the Teamsters allege, was given sole authority to represent the interests of Frontier pilots in equity and profit-sharing plans. The Teamsters union said that, after it was certified as the Frontier pilots’ bargaining representative, amendments were made between Republic/Frontier and FAPAInvest, allegedly in violation of federal labor law.
Republic, in its most recent court and financial filings, called the union’s allegations baseless.
The company warned that, if it does not prevail and the restructuring agreement with Frontier pilots is voided, it will lose $10 million in annual cost savings over the next four years.
The uneasy relationship between Republic and the Teamsters also surfaced this month when the union won a proxy ballot question asking shareholders that the company’s board chairman be an independent director.
The current board chairman—and Republic CEO—is Bryan Bedford.
The union cited a trend toward independent directors as a way to promote greater management accountability.
Republic’s board says it already has an independent director on the board and needs the flexibility.
This year’s Republic Airways annual meeting Aug. 1 is in New York City, instead of Indianapolis, as it was last year, when Teamsters picketed outside.•