UPS Pilots Seek Mediation Exit, Mediator Halts Talks

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The National Mediation Board ordered an indefinite recess in UPS's labor negotiations with the Independent Pilots Association, UPS said on Friday.

The union representing UPS pilots sought release from federal mediation so it could strike, citing three years of contract negotiations with the company that have failed to reach an agreement.

However, the suspension in talks removes any threat of a strike.

The parties are hammering out a new contract for UPS pilots.

Contract talks between UPS and its pilots began in October 2002. The mediation board has overseen the talks since August. The pilots' contract became amendable Dec. 31, 2003, but has remained unchanged since then.

If IPA's request is granted it will lead to a 30-day countdown to a strike or lockout at UPS, the union said.

There can be no strike or work stoppage while the parties are in recess, however. UPS pilots are legally obligated under the Railway Labor Act to continue working under the existing contract during any recess.

Although no future mediation sessions have been scheduled at this time, the mediator indicates both sides should "re-evaluate negotiating positions with respect to the remaining issues and prepare to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion," according to the UPS.

"We made progress during talks this week," said Bob Lekites, vice president of UPS airlines and international operations. "While the company and the union still have differences to address, UPS remains committed to continue negotiations until an agreement can be reached."

"This is not a step we take lightly," said Capt Tom Nicholson, president of the Independent Pilots Association said after the union asked for release from negotiations. "In the 15-year history of negotiating contracts with UPS, this is the first time we have requested a release from mediation."

A recess often is a normal part of the mediation process, giving the company and union time to re-evaluate their positions. It does not prohibit the two parties from continuing to talk.

The main contract items still on the table are compensation and benefits. UPS has said its pilots already are among the highest paid in the industry, earning an average of $175,000 a year.

UPS continues to believe the federally prescribed negotiating process will result in a contract that best serves the interests of its employees, customers and shareholders, Lekites said.

Moving forward, the federal mediator will continue to control the timing and pace of negotiations. "The company remains ready and willing to meet at any time or place specified by the federal mediator," Lekites said.

This is the second recess since the company and the union began talks under the auspices of a federal mediator. The previous recess was called in June 2005. While that recess lasted three months, there is no prescribed time period for a recess.

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