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US Airways pilots union votes for new contract, backs merger
Posted On: Mar 01, 2013

The Republic | azcentral.comThu Feb 28, 2013 7:46 PM

The US Airways-American Airlines merger got support from one union on Thursday when the Association of Flight Attendants voted for a new contract, but it might face trouble because of a long-running fight among pilots.

The union representing 6,800 attendants for US Airways ratified a contract that gives them pay raises and supports the merger. Having the deal in place opens up negotiations between the two airlines and their attendants unions, who eventually will need a combined contract.

That still hasn’t happened for pilots who flew for America West Airlines and US Airways when the companies merged in 2005. They still are fighting over seniority, and it could drag into negotiations in the American merger.

Seniority determines the flying schedules, promotions, pay and who gets cut first when flights are culled for pilots.

US Airways was in bankruptcy when the solvent America West merged with the bigger airline. America West pilots argued that because their company salvaged US Airways, they should get seniority.

US Airways pilots have argued that years of service should determine seniority, which favors those pilots because their airline had been established longer.

All the other unions at the airlines merged and based their seniority on their date of hire.

The US Airways pilots were willing to make some concessions to the America West pilots, said James Ray, communications chairman for US Airline Pilots Association, the union that represents the US Airways pilots today. But those concessions are not enough for the former America West pilots. They got bigger benefits from a 2007 federal arbitrator named George Nicolau, who created a blended seniority list for America West and US Airways pilots.

The former US Airways pilots didn’t like that deal, and because they outnumber the America West pilots 2-1, were able to vote out the union in favor of the US Airline Pilots Association. They never adopted the so-called Nicolau award, and it’s been a fight ever since.

A group called Leonidas, which respresents the former America West pilots, has continuously challenged the union in court. The group’s appeal is now before the 9th Circuit Court.

Eventually, the US Airways pilots will have to sit down with the American Airlines pilots and work out yet another seniority list. When that happens, Leonidas wants to present the seniority list for US Airways that Nicolau came up with, and the union wants to present their own, seniority-based list.

Leonidas is prepared to take further action if its members don’t get their way, according to the group’s lawyers.

“We would like nothing better than to avoid court altogether but the West pilot class, as represented by our legal firm, will use all means at its disposal to defend our seniority rights,” the group said in a recent update to members.

That’s not to say that the former America West pilots don’t support the merger with American, because they do. They just want more seniority than their current US Airways union will afford them.

The 11 representatives for the US Airways pilots union approved a memorandum of understanding that sets out pay for the pilots through the merger. Three of those representatives hail from the former America West. And Leonidas encouraged West pilots to vote in favor of it, which the combined pilots of the union did.

The memorandum would bring raises of 18 percent to 35 percent to the US Airways and America West pilots, who have not had a raise since the 2005 merger.

Once US Airways pilots and American pilots begin to negotiate their own seniority list, the process theoretically should go more smoothly because of federal legislation known as the McCaskill-Bond amendment, which passed in 2008 and governs seniority integration in airline mergers. 

TWU Local 568
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