April 4 (Reuters) - Pilots rejected a tentative contract at Republic Airways Holdings, a regional carrier that curbed its flying plans for this year citing difficulty finding aviators, that the carrier said offered improved pay and work rules.
Local 357 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, which represents more than 2,200 pilots at Republic units, on Friday said 1,643 pilots, or 85 percent, voted against the contract, while 289 voted in favor. The union said 89.5 percent of the pilots voted.
“The pilot group has stated clearly its demand that Republic must do better in establishing acceptable terms for a new agreement,” Local 357 President Craig Moffatt said in a statement.
He said the local would look to pinpoint priorities that could help reach an agreement the pilots would approve. Talks with the pilot group on a new contract began in 2007.
Pilots at American Airlines Group’s American Eagle unit failed to ratify an agreement last week.
The rejections come amid concern about pilot shortages in the regional airline sector. The U.S. Government Accountability Office warned earlier this year that regional airlines are having a hard time finding pilots relative to their bigger counterparts because of low wages and new U.S. rules mandating more experience for entry-level aviators.
Indianapolis-based Republic said in February that its pre-tax income would be reduced this year because it decided not to extend leases on 27 planes due to a scarcity of qualified pilots.
“I absolutely believe that (pilots) believe that they have leverage in these negotiations,” said William Swelbar, research engineer with MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation. He said pilots at the regionals, which operate flights for bigger airlines, were frustrated about low wages.
Given pressures to keep costs down, Swelbar added, “I just don’t see where it is that the money is going to come from under the existing construct for them to see significant improvement over and above what the tentative agreements had in them.”
Republic Airways said the proposed pact included pay increases that would have put Republic pilots “at or near the top of its regional airline peers” and a signing bonus.
“We will work with the IBT to determine our next steps,” Republic Chief Executive Bryan Bedford said in a statement. (Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)