By Sen. Jesse Lujan

Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (Dec. 9) -- We are told in a constant refrain how Continental Micronesia is one of the best companies to work for in the United States. We are reminded of corporate contributions to our community. This is done to persuade us not to pursue more airline competition and lower airfares.

While we appreciate any contributions by Continental, they should not deter us from seeking more airline competition and lower airfares. Moreover, those contributions need to be put in perspective.

While Continental may be one of the best companies to work for in the US Mainland, they do not seem to respect their local employees as much as they value their US Mainland counterparts. They pay local employees less than the average they pay to their Mainland counterparts in the same jobs at their other hubs. They pay locals less despite making a disproportionate profit from these local employee’s efforts. When it comes time to squeeze out savings, Continental puts locals on the chopping block despite making less to begin with.

They say they are "Guam’s Hometown Airline." Yet, Mark Erwin, Chief Executive Officer and President of the airline does not even live here — he lives in Hawaii. Though Erwin does come here a few weeks before elections in order to advocate the defeat of any candidate seeking fairness and competition in our airline ticket prices. There also appears to be some evidence that Erwin is transferring employees to Guam from Hawaii and the US Mainland to replace local hires or to fill vacant jobs here. These actions are not the behavior of a true "hometown airline" but it is the behavior of a "hometown airline" of convenience.

Continental says they contribute free airline tickets to the community. When examined carefully these "contributions" are mostly self-serving. Apparently they have in the past provided free upgrades and other special benefits to politicians who can possibly be helpful to Continental. If this has occurred this practice may have violated Federal and local laws and I intend to request a full investigation of the matter by local and federal prosecutors. Continental Micronesia gives free tickets for so called familiarization tours to inspect Continental facilities in the Mainland to key media personalities on Guam. It just so happens that most of these media personalities are statesiders who can then visit their families and friends using cheap tickets on low cost airlines operating in the States. And, it’s no coincidence that these same media personalities getting these freebees for which locals are grossly overcharged end up defending Continental’s monopoly on their talk shows with the most vigor. Continental says it gives free airline tickets to the University of Guam. Yet those tickets are to relatively highly paid statesider college professors who are expected to reciprocate by defending Continental’s monopoly position at our expense.

Meanwhile, local patients willing to pay their hard earned money for exorbitantly priced plane tickets are routinely turned away or made to wait a life threatening extended period of time before being allowed to fly to Stateside medical facilities. Continental says that some company in the Mainland called Medlink says they cannot fly. Why does our "Hometown Airline" need the opinion of a doctor not licensed to practice here who has never even seen the patient about a patient’s suitability to fly when local doctors intimately familiar with the patient have already certified that the patient should be transported immediately? Is it because Continental does not want to be inconvenienced by any complications on their flight and they use Medlink as a convenient excuse to turn away these very sick but inconvenient local residents? Is that how a true "hometown airline" should act?

Finally and most insulting and arrogant of all Continental argues that because of all these contributions to the community we local residents should not do things to alienate Continental like seeking more competition and lower ticket prices. Should it not be the other way around that a business should not do things to alienate its customers as Continental is doing.

December 9, 2004

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