A $27.5 million expansion of Terminal 2 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport will proceed, despite worries that a labor dispute involving pilots at Sun Country Airlines could throttle the project.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) on Monday voted to accept a $26 million bid from Knutson Construction Services of St. Louis Park to build three gates at the terminal, also known as the Humphrey terminal. Last month, the MAC opted to delay the decision because of a long-standing contract fight between Mendota Heights-based Sun Country and its unionized pilots. Sun Country owner Marty Davis had threatened to downsize if no contract was reached, leaving MAC members wondering whether an expansion would be needed.
Sun Country controls about 36 percent of the passenger traffic at Terminal 2, which has 10 gates. The airline served some 1.7 million passengers last year — and its figures for the first quarter this year are up 17 percent over the same period last year, according to the MAC.
MAC Vice President Gary Warren said Monday that despite the labor situation at Sun Country, he doubted a total shutdown would occur. “Sun Country has operated at [the airport] for 33 years,” under various owners and through several bankruptcies. It “has proved to be sustainable regardless of the ownership of the airline,” he said.
Even if Sun Country cut flights, Warren said another airline would likely take its place. Low-cost carriers not yet serving the Twin Cities market include JetBlue and Virgin America, he noted.
Pilot Brian Roseen, chairman of the Sun Country Master Executive Council that negotiates the union contract, would not comment on the expansion project. But he noted Sun Country plans to add two planes to its fleet later this year, and hire more pilots to fly them.
The company and the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents about 250 Sun Country pilots, have been negotiating for five years and in federal mediation for three years.
“We have reached agreement on virtually everything except a few economic sections, including pilot pay rates,” Roseen said. The union is asking the National Mediation Board to schedule more mediation sessions.
John Fredericksen, Sun Country’s president and CEO, said the airline had no comment on the negotiations.
In other news, after months of deliberation, the MAC voted to raise the minimum wage at the airport to $10 an hour, a move that will affect some 2,800 workers. Most workers currently earn about $8 an hour at various jobs, including car drivers, airplane cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and others.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been pressing for $15 an hour for low-wage workers. The workers’ new hourly rate is $1 an hour higher than Minnesota’s minimum wage.
Several MAC members voted against the measure. “It’s bad policy for our board to do this,” said Commissioner Rick King. “We’re in the middle.”
But Ibrahim Mohamed, an airport cart driver who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton, said, “I will support this small step, but I hope we keep going” to get more.