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Pinnacle's missteps; Airline company raises for top execs doesn't fly with employees or the public

Pinnacle Airlines' decision to award its top executives hundreds of thousands of dollars just prior to filing for bankruptcy can be described only one way: sleazy. The actions by this airline reinforce every negative stereotype people have of big corporations.

It appears that corporate chaos and the threat of financial ruin isn't enough of a deterrent to award CEO Sean Menke a $250,000 raise, and Chief Operating Officer John Spanjers a $125,000 raise.

Their raises were approved last month, less than two weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy. That alone is enough to get folks railing against "the man."

Couple that with the fact that Pinnacle is pushing for 5 percent employee wage cuts, having a hard time paying its pilots, and delaying the ability for families of Flight 3407 crash victims to resolve outstanding lawsuits.

Now there's a corporate image nightmare. We pity the airline's PR folks.

Pinnacle owns Colgan Air, the regional flight carrier associated with the 2009 crash of Continental Connections Flight 3407.

As noted in News stories by Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski, the bankruptcy filing that Pinnacle made late Sunday will result in a mandatory stay on remaining lawsuits involving Flight 3407 and could limit the ability of families to collect punitive damages.

In addition, Pinnacle's pilots have apparently been subjected to haphazard paychecks since May, aggravated most recently by the company's installation of a new payroll system that the company still hasn't figured out how to use to successfully pay people.

During times of corporate fiscal crisis, some enlightened CEOs have actually given up their bonuses, subjected themselves to wage freezes or even (gasp!) cut their own pay.

Those sacrifices did not result in miraculous corporate solvency. They simply sent a message to the work force: We're in this together. We suffer together. And we recognize that we would look greedy and heartless if we personally profited during a time of corporate misfortune and cutbacks.

Menke, Spanjers and Pinnacle's board of directors didn't get that memo.

Instead, the company said its top leaders are getting raises to "reflect additional responsibilities" because of the departure of other Pinnacle executives.

We don't know where Menke and Spanjers live, but it's not in the real world. Many job-shedding companies have left remaining employees with much heavier work loads and expanded job responsibilities. Those folks aren't getting an extra brass nickel.

Pinnacle's "restructuring" is basic corporate code language for plans to control costs by downsizing and squeezing money out of its remaining employees. Any company on the ropes -- particularly in the airline industry -- can be expected to come up with such a survival plan.

We understand that. What we don't understand is how Pinnacle can include six-figure raises in its so-called restructuring plan. If Menke and Spanjers turn out to be corporate geniuses who eventually right Pinnacle's wings, no one would begrudge them a paycheck party.

But timing is everything, and Menke and Spanjers are clearly out of step.