Teamsters chief smacks down local pilots union

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Teamsters President James Hoffa wants to rein in leaders of the pilots' union at Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings Inc.

Hoffa earlier this month threatened to remove Teamsters Local 357 President Craig Moffatt if he didn't retract statements about the union's intent to withdraw from joint safety programs.

“First and foremost, our members and the flying public at large expect and deserve the highest standards of flight safety,” Hoffa said in a May 1 letter to Moffatt and the local executive board. “Suspension of safety committee programs, if allowed to continue, would subject our members and the public to significant safety risks.”

The union on May 2 reinstated its participation in the Federal Aviation Administration safety programs, in which pilots and airlines voluntarily report their errors so that patterns can be detected and corrected over time.

But local officers remain defiant. Recording Secretary Dan Silbaugh said they decided to continue participating in safety committees because Republic's management agreed to discuss pilot concerns that error reports are being used against individuals. He said the officers disagree with Hoffa's statement that Local 357 lacked the authority to withdraw from the program.

The union represents about 2,000 pilots who fly for Republic's three regional airlines: Republic, Shuttle America and Chautauqua. Talks about a new contract, which came up for renewal in late 2007, have been stalled since early this year.

The relationship seemed to deteriorate further in April, after Moffatt was fired while in the midst of an FAA-required training. The union claimed that his firing violated training protocol and responded by announcing on May 1 its withdrawal from safety and other joint programs.

“None of these committees directly impact safety,” Silbaugh said. He added that the Republic pilots would not have been the first to walk away from a safety committee out of distrust in management.

That is true, but the FAA clearly wants airlines and their employees to set aside their differences. Former administrator Roger Sturgell issued a call to action in 2008, after US Airways and its pilots couldn't agree on involvement in the Aviation Action Safety Program. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines had previously been in disagreement with their pilots over the same program.

“Using safety as a chip at the bargaining table is unconscionable,” Sturgell said in a press release at the time. “It's in everyone's best interest to separate safety from labor issues.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is working to resolve its issues with Local 357, spokesman Galen Munroe said. He said he couldn't comment further because it's an internal matter.

Moffatt, who is still president of the local, said he didn't want to argue an internal matter in the press.

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