US Airways pilots are growing increasingly frustrated over prolonged contract negotiations that have failed to produce an agreement with management.
"It's been going on for six years," said James Ray, a captain who serves as spokesman for the US Airways Pilot Association. "Contracts in this world never expire - they are just amendable."
Negotiations are now being overseen by the National Mediation Board and mediated sessions have been scheduled through June 2011. If a mediator declares the negotiations at an impasse, both sides enter into a 30-day cooling off period, after which pilots would be able to go on strike.
"We would love to be able to go to strike right now. That's when you have leverage," Ray said. "As long as we are negotiating like this it could drag on and on."
Tomorrow, pilots will stage a picket line at Philadelphia International airport in what they describe as a "public display of frustration." Over the past several months, the pilots staged similar protests at Charlotte Douglas International and Reagan Washington National airports.
The relationship between the pilots and US Airways has been turbulent over the past several years as the carrier battled through bankruptcy twice in a two-year period between 2002 and 2004 and entered a merger with America West in 2005.
Ray said that pilots gave back some $9 billion in wage and pension concessions post 9/11 to ensure the viability of US Airways. Now, he said, the pilots expect payback.
"We want something comparable to industry standards," he told ATI. He contends that US Airways pilots are paid less than industry average by about 25% to 30%.
The effort to merge the two pilot groups, which were previously represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, ended up in court as the two sides battled over seniority and representative issues. ALPA was dismissed, primarily because the US Airways pilot group was the larger of the two, and a new union was formed.
Today, both pilot groups continue to operate under separate contracts. "It's still two airlines flying under one airline," said Ray. "US Air pilots fly US Air planes; American West pilots fly America West planes."
"We have consistently stated it is our strong desire to see our pilots achieve a joint contract with the Company. We look forward to a final resolution that results in a joint contract for our pilots," a US Airways spokesperson said. "As far as the informational picketing tomorrow, there is no impact to our flight operations, schedule or otherwise in Philadelphia. The participants in this informational picketing are pilots that aren't scheduled to work during the time that they participate in these activities."