More than three and a half years since America West and US Airways merged, the integration of the pilot groups continues to inch forward very, very slowly. A big milestone was reached yesterday when the courts finally ruled in favor of the former America West pilots. It's about time. But of course, this is still far from over.
Before I get into yesterday's news, how about a brief history? There was no question that merging these two groups would be difficult. The relatively junior America West pilots clearly would have different interests from the far more senior US Airways pilots. Unsurprisingly, the big sticking point was in regards to how to integrate seniority. It went to binding arbitration via the union (both were represented by ALPA), and a verdict was reached that made adjustments for the fact that the America West pilots had much less seniority. This blended seniority is similar to what Delta and Northwest agreed to, or so I understand.
The old US Airways pilots didn't like this, so they decided to ignore that whole "binding" part of the arbitration. They opted to leave the union and start their own instead. The America West pilots were powerless to stop it, because the US Airways pilots had enough votes to overrule anything the America West pilots would have wanted. After the vote, USAPA was brought in as the new, independent union and the US Airways guys declared the seniority ruling to be void.
As you can imagine, this was a complete nightmare for the America West pilots who were unable to stop something that was an awful idea in the first place. So they did what they could, and they took the US Airways pilots to court to force them to accept the seniority ruling and actually implement it.
Yesterday, there was a unanimous ruling in favor of the America West pilots, so you'd think this would be done right? Of course not. The USAPA put out a press release immediately that came off as incredibly whiny.
Since we were required to argue our case with limited evidence and were hamstrung by questionable rulings and incorrect instructions, USAPA, quite literally, fought this battle with both hands tied behind its back.You can see where this is going. It's appeal time! How incredibly ridiculous. They will fight this to the end, yet I don't know anyone outside of the old US Airways pilot group who thinks that they're in the right here. It's just sad to watch them flail about like this.
The incredible thing here is that until the seniority ruling is made, there's no chance the company will talk about a new contract. And because of that, the US Airways pilots are just leaving money on the table. Way back when the merger happened, management offered to bring US Airways pilots up to the America West pay levels. They balked, and so the US Airways pilots are still on their old pay scale.
AirlinePilotCentral.com has the comparative hourly rates for the two pilot groups by seniority and aircraft type. The biggest overlap is on the narrowbody fleet, so let's look at that for comparison.
A 15 year US Airways narrowbody captain makes $125 per hour while an America West captain makes $142. Pilots are allowed by law to fly up to 1,000 hours per year, so if they flew the maximum they're leaving $17,000 a year on the table. It's been three and a half years since the merger, so by delaying this so long, that same pilot has missed out on about $60,000. Nice work guys. And this assumes that they wouldn't have been able to make any salary gains in later negotiations, which they very well may have been able to do.
If they were smart, the US Airways pilots would have stopped fighting this long ago and tried to move on, but no. These guys continue to be stubborn and incredibly, nobody suffers more than they do.