East Vs. West Showdown Will Begin Next Week
just a few days, pilots for US Airways begin a vote which will
determine whether they continue a 57-year tradition of
representation by the Air Line Pilots Association, or break with
ALPA and go with the newly-formed US Airline Pilots
The impetus for the vote was the combination of American West
and US Airways workforces in the 2005 merger between the companies,
and ALPA's backing of a seniority list which pilots of the old US
Airways believe treated them unfairly.
As ANN reported last May, the
union signed off on the plan, imposed by an arbitrator, which
assigned long-time US Airways pilots lower seniority than some
American West pilots with much less service. In the merger, the US
Airways name was the one retained... but the old US Airways was
essentially bankrupt, and American West was in the driver's seat.
ALPA was caught in the middle, since it had represented pilots of
both airlines when they were still separate.
Now, instead of becoming a cohesive team, the two groups of
pilots remain at odds. Those who worked for the old US Airways call
themselves the "east," and the former American West pilots call
themselves the "west." The east pilots initiated the vote for a new
union, believing ALPA had sold them out in not fighting the
TheStreet.com reports that about 5,300 union members are
eligible to vote in the certification election, and what once
appeared a slam-dunk for changing representation appears to have
become a tighter race. In order for ALPA to hold on, about 1,000 of
the disgruntled east pilots will have to vote against changing
Jack Stephan, who was re-elected last week to a second two-year
term as chairman of the US Airways ALPA chapter, believes many east
pilots will get past their emotions and make what he says is the
logical decision to stay with ALPA.
"Pilots have been trained to make ice cold, calculating
decisions," Stephan said. "If an engine conks out, you first come
out with a bunch of expletives. But then you remove the emotion and
methodically follow the checklist. And you make a decision that may
not be what your gut tells you to do, but what you feel you have to
Management of the new USAPA simply point to the math. Over
3,000 pilots, mostly from the east group, signed petitions to force
the certification vote. If they follow through and vote to change
unions, ALPA will be decertified at a major US airline for the
first time in over four decades.
USAPA chairman Stephen Bradford predicts a win, saying ALPA
representation of US Airways pilots is tied to failed national
policies. "I believe we are going to prevail, although I don't
think it will be a landslide," Bradford said.
We'll have to wait about a month to see who will be proven
correct. Voting begins March 20, and will take four weeks.