FLORIDA - As Spirit Airlines and its pilots resume labor talks today, the airline's 600 flight attendants got notice they were furloughed.
Negotiations between Miramar-based Spirit Airlines and its 500 pilots on strike are taking place today at an undisclosed location in Fort Lauderdale. But that bit of positive news has been overshadowed by flight attendant lay-offs and the airline canceling flights through Thursday.
"Today management informed Spirit flight attendants that they will be furloughed until there is an end to the ALPA [pilots'] strike," Jason Meyer, president of the Spirit chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in an e-mail.
A Spirit Airlines spokeswoman did not respond to a media request for comment. Meyer said the flight attendant group anticipated the possibility of these furloughs as this is part of the process. Flight attendants received notice via a company letterhead, dated June 14.
"We urge management to come to an agreement quickly so that flight attendants and other Spirit employees can return to their careers," Meyer said.
Spirit typically offers about 150 flights a day, but has not flown at all since Friday June 11. Spirit carries about 10,000 passengers daily through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on 52 departures.
Spirit pilots walked out on contract negotiations early Saturday morning, after more than three years of bargaining with airline management over salary increases and work rules. Thousands of passengers have been affected by the system-wide flight cancelations.
Spirit flight attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, have shown support for Spirit pilots on the picket lines.
"We continue to support Spirit pilots in their fight for a fair contract," Meyer said.
The Spirit unit of the AFA filed for contract mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB) in February 2009. AFA-CWA has met with management several times since the flight attendants' contract became amendable in November 2007, but talks with management continues have been fruitless, the union said.
"We also understand what it is like to deal with a management team that continues to be unfair at the table," Meyer said. He characterized talks as "slow and mostly unproductive."
Spirit pilots marked the fourth day of the strike by picketing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. On Monday, more than 200 pilots from airlines industry-wide, including Spirit, turned out at Fort Lauderdale airport to support the strike.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a union representative said contract talks between the pilots and management were ongoing and were expected to continue for several hours.
"The National Mediation Board called for the talks, and they're trying to close the gap," between Spirit pilots salary demands and management's offer, said Art Luby, assistant director of representation for the Air Line Pilots Association. He declined to discuss details on the status of ongoing negotiations.
"Your unity has not gone unnoticed," said Paul Hopkins, strike chairman for the Spirit unit of the Air Line Pilots Association, in a voicemail message to the pilots' strike hotline Monday evening.
Hopkins also addressed another "hot topic" for pilots: Spirit management's frequent e-mails to its pilot group. "While they get your blood pressure up, we've got a job to do," he said, encouraging the pilots to stay unified and "hold the line". Spirit's pilots' are bargaining with airline management over salary increases and work rules.
"Our demands are still the same," Creed said Monday.
Spirit initially said it offered pilots a 30 percent pay increase over five years, but on Sunday released a new calculation that put the increase at 47 percent, when regular seniority-based increases are included.
At the same time, the pilots would have retained a four-day break between each and every trip, and received a $3,000 signing bonus and 401(k) matching contribution increases.
"I am concerned that our employees are being used in a broader political game that may not be in the interest of their careers or their families," Spirit Airlines President and CEO Ben Baldanza said, in a written statement.
In an interview, Creed rejected Baldanza's suggestion that their strike is a crusade for the industry at large and dismissed the statement as hyperbole. The national union and members from other airlines are only playing a support role in efforts to win a new contract, he said.
Creed said Spirit's director of flight operations and chief pilot resigned rather than fly through the strike. Both jobs are considered management positions.
Creed also took issue with the proposed salary figures the company issued publicly. He said the salaries Spirit published reflect a 90-hour monthly pay guarantee instead of the typical 72-hour guarantee, established by the industry. If a pilot were to work a 90-hour flight schedule each month starting in January, then by October or November