Scope resolution central to UA-CAL integration

 - December 28, 2010, 9:29 AM

The October 1 merger of United and Continental Airlines has exhumed an old bone of contention between mainline pilots and their management that stands to profoundly affect regional airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association-represented brethren employed by them. In late November and early last month mainline pilots walked informational picket lines at Newark, Houston and Chicago to protest the spread of "outsourcing" of flying to regional affiliates, particularly those still flying under the Continental Airlines code.At issue, of course, stand differences between the scope clauses written into the respective pilot contracts at Continental and United, which continue to operate separately under the ownership of United Continental Holdings. While the United contract allows United Express affiliates to fly jets that carry as many as 70 seats, the more restrictive Continental contract limits the capacity of the jets flown by regional affiliates to 50 seats and bars them from flying directly between any of Continental's hubs, namely Newark, Houston and Cleveland. It also contains a numerical restriction tied to capacity at the mainline, but, according to Jay Pierce, chairman of ALPA's Continental pilots unit, Continental's regional partners can add many more 50-seat jets before they reach the current limit. The clause also specifies a 79-seat capacity limit for turboprops, which has allowed Continental Connection partner Colgan Air to fly Bombardier Q400s. Notwithstanding its recent demonstrations, ALPA appears to have softened its stance somewhat since it called for the complete abolition of so-called regional jet outsourcing this past summer. During talks with airline management in Denver, the union proposed placing an initial cap on subcontracting, allowing the capacity purchase agreements (CPAs) with the regional carriers to run their course and, finally, require a phased transition of the flying from the regionals into what would become the new United Airlines. If implemented as proposed, such a scope clause would serve eventually to dismantle the United Express system.More recently, however, the union has found itself fighting merely to maintain the restrictions already in place. In fact, the newly merged airline has revealed plans to replace 50-seat Continental Express Embraer ERJ 145s based at Newark, Cleveland and Houston with 70-seat United Express jets. Such a move would violate the terms of the Continental scope clause, which, according to Pierce, remains active until the sides negotiate a new joint labor agreement. "One of the things that we're pretty upset with right now is they seem to be trying to expand their rights without even contemplating negotiation," said Pierce. "They're just doing it unilaterally, contrary to our collective bargaining agreement."They're using the merger as a way to sort of cloud the issue," he added. "Until we get a joint collective bargaining agreement, Continental is obligated to operate separately and as they operate separately they have to honor the provisions of our scope section, just like they do our compensation section and our scheduling section." The union hopes to reach an integration deal "within months," said Pierce. "But for us to get an agreement the company at some point is going to have to learn the word 'yes.'" ALPA representatives and management of the "new" United hold meetings virtually weekly, said Pierce, who added that the union has agreed to an "extremely aggressive" negotiating schedule. "If we don't have an agreement in a reasonable amount of time, it won't be because the union didn't try," he insisted. "We've agreed to meet with them any place, any time."