US Airways Files Suit Against Pilots in Ongoing Dispute

 - August 8, 2011, 9:00 AM
US Airways is locked in an ongoing and increasingly bitter labor dispute with its pilots union. (Photo: US Airways)

US Airways filed suit against its pilots’ union July 29, claiming an illegal work slowdown in the latest development in a lengthy and increasingly bitter labor dispute.

The US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA), representing 5,200 US Airways pilots, lodged a complaint against the carrier in federal court in May alleging it has violated its obligation to bargain in good faith. The union later placed a full-page ad in USA Today accusing the airline of prioritizing revenues over safety. US Airways, in a letter to employees, accused USAPA of waging a “smear campaign.”

The acrimony stems from the 2005 merger of then-bankrupt US Airways with America West Airlines, and the failure since then to integrate pilots from the legacy carriers under one contract. That has caused a division between so-called “East” pilots based out of Charlotte, N.C., Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, who worked for US Airways before the merger, and “West” pilots based out of Phoenix, who worked for America West. Disagreement between the two groups over seniority rules led to arbitration in 2007.

Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways seeks a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to stop USAPA members from “engaging in an ongoing, unlawful pilot slowdown campaign” aimed at causing “nationwide flight delays and cancellations in order to put pressure on US Airways in its current collective bargaining negotiations.” It alleges that the pilots from the Charlotte hub orchestrated the slowdown, which it estimates costs $377,000 a day in lost revenue and expenses.

“The true purpose of USAPA’s campaign is further confirmed by the fact that the only participants are the ‘East’ pilots,” US Airways states in a brief, adding “their allegiance to USAPA is generally stronger than that of the ‘West’ pilots.”

Charlotte-based USAPA called the airline’s accusations “categorically false,” in a statement provided to The Arizona Republic. “In fact, quite some time ago, we posted a message to our pilots advising them that it is not the union’s policy to engage in any sort of illegal job actions,” stated Capt. James Ray, a union spokesman.

In its own suit, filed May 27 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the union accuses US Airways of illegal foot-dragging on grievances and concluding an “integrated collective bargaining agreement.”