United pilots get high salaries picket the wake-up call as pressure mounts before summer travel season

David KOENIG (AP Aviation Writer)

DALLAS (AP) — Pilots from the nation’s biggest airlines marched in picket lines at major airports Friday demanding pay increases ahead of a record summer travel season.

United Airlines pilots have been working without pay increases for more than four years while negotiating new contracts with airline management.

However, the pilot is unlikely to attack immediately. Federal law makes it very difficult for unions to go on strike in the airline industry, and the last time a US airline went on strike was over a decade ago.

Protests across the country by United Airlines pilots follow overwhelming strike approval votes by American Airlines and Southwest Airlines pilots. A United pilot could be the next to vote, union officials said.

Pilots from all three airlines are aiming to match or exceed the 34% salary increase over four years that Delta agreed with pilots earlier this year.

The top pay for a United Airlines captain is $369 an hour for a two-aisle aircraft called a “widebody” commonly used on international flights, and $297 an hour for a “narrowbody” such as the Boeing 737. Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours a month, according to the Labor Department.

United’s offer is in line with Delta’s increase, but that alone may not be enough to reach a deal.

“We still have a long way to go to resolve some of the issues on the negotiating table,” said Garth Thompson, president of the Airline Pilots Association United Division.

Mr Thompson said discussions on wages have been postponed while the two countries negotiate over schedules, including unions’ desire to limit United’s ability to work pilots on holidays.

“We will continue to work with the Airline Pilots Association on the industry-leading contracts we offer for our world-class pilots,” said United spokesman Joshua Fried.

Pilots say United should be rewarded for helping it navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Pilot Alz Delp said: “We’ve made a lot of sacrifices during the pandemic, but now is the time for the company to get serious and sign a deal that recognizes the sacrifices and contributions we’ve made. I feel that,” he said. It happened when I was picketing at San Francisco International Airport.

The deal with Delta, which United pilots use as a starting point, will cost $7.2 billion over four years. Blaise Wagspak, who teaches airline management and marketing at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said all airlines are dealing with rising labor costs, which could be reflected in ticket prices. but points out that fares are also determined by supply and demand.

United airlines passenger Gisele Ascione of San Francisco said airlines make a lot of money and “the crew should be paid as well as the pilots.” It’s common sense. ”

Even if airlines and their unions can’t come to an agreement soon, a strike is unlikely in the coming months when millions of Americans want to fly for the summer. Under U.S. law, airline and railroad workers can’t legally strike, and companies can’t lock workers out until a federal arbitrator decides further negotiations are pointless.

The National Arbitration Commission rarely declares a deadlock in negotiations, and even when it does, there is a “cooling-off” period during which the White House and Congress can block a strike. That’s what President Bill Clinton did in 1997, minutes after pilots went on strike against American Airlines. In December, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that imposes contract terms on freight rail workers, ending the threat of a strike.

The last strike against a US airline occurred in 2010 on Spirit Airlines.

United’s union leader, Thompson, said pilots “will continue to work in 2023” despite challenges such as a “demanding” summer flight schedule.

For many years, airline workers did not go on strike, but did their jobs to disrupt flights anyway. A federal judge fined American Airlines’ pilots union $45 million in 1999 for ill health that disrupted the company’s operations, but the fine was later reduced. In 2019, a federal judge ordered a union representing American Airlines aircraft mechanics to stop what American Airlines called illegal work delays.

Arthur Wheaton, director of labor research at Cornell University, said Congress would not allow airline strikes because of economic damage, but disgruntled pilots could still cause chaos in other ways. .

“They always have ‘jobs to rule.’ They might say, ‘We’re not working overtime,'” Wheaton said. “I don’t expect pilots to intentionally try to ruin everyone’s trip, but negotiation involves influence and power…Having the ability to do that can be a negotiation tactic. .”

Airlines are vulnerable to protests against labor rules because they rely on pilots and flight attendants to book extra shifts during peak travel seasons.

Regardless of the legal hurdles to strikes, strikes are becoming more common, as trade unions believe strike votes can give them leverage in bargaining. The lack of pilots also puts these unions in a particularly strong bargaining position.

Chicago-based United Airlines has about 14,000 pilots, and the union expects at least 2,000 to picket Friday at 10 airports from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles. The union has also distributed a leaflet highlighting its desire for better work-life balance in scheduling pilots, but does not mention salaries.


Haven Daly of San Francisco contributed to this report. United pilots get high salaries picket the wake-up call as pressure mounts before summer travel season

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