As American Airlines and US Airways March Towards Integration, The Pilots’ Unions Still Stand Out

There are thousands of mundane steps to merge two airlines the size of American Airlines and US Airways.  While that process is well underway, we’re still well over a year away from completion and probably close to a year before more substantial customer-facing pieces are in place.

In the interim, the process of merging the two workforces is moving along mostly as expected.  Because there are many unions involved, each group is handled a bit differently.  And, since each airline had their own union for a specific class of employees (and sometimes more than one), there’s generally an integration process for the unions.

The responsibility for that integration process is not something specifically borne by the airlines, but rather by the unions themselves (generally with support from the airlines).  One of the early steps in the process is to petition the  National Mediation Board that the two airlines are acting substantially as one.  And, while we’re still a long way from that being done, the NMB has generally agreed with previous mergers that we’re far enough along in this one to certify American and US Airways are operating as one so the unions can begin integrating.

There’s contracts to be negotiated and seniority lists to be determined.  These are real life, very important issues that affect each of the employees on things like seniority, pay and work rules, major factors of their job.  These integration processes are  mostly routine, and have largely followed that route so far in this latest merger.

The flight attendants have already gone through this process, along with mechanics, ground workers, and passenger service agents (even though the passenger service agents voted down a union a few years ago).  Unsurprisingly, the pilots process isn’t quite as smooth.

As with the other groups, the NMB certified American Airlines and US Airways as one for the purposes of moving forward on pilots union integration.  But, harkening back to a battle roughly 7-years old at this point, a subset of the US Airways pilot believe the process isn’t fair and wants another shot in court to settle things.

Since the last time I wrote about this in March, there has been progress in almost all other areas of the workforce.  The recent NMB decision is a good step forward, but I still suspect this may end up back in front of the courts in some form or fashion.  The NMB will likely rule soon as to whether the APA will represent all pilots going forward.  If it does, one would think this battle might finally be over.

Even though the pilots are all getting substantial raises as part of the agreements struck to win approval of a merger, seniority remains a very passionate issue for many pilots dating back to the original US Airways-America West integration.

The union leadership is essentially paid to keep fighting this battle, barring some majority decision from it’s members to let sleeping dogs lie.  And, I don’t mean to make light of these issues when I say this, but if this issue does ultimately get resolved or even continue to be disputed after 7 years, the question remains for each individual pilot.

If you’ve been unhappy with your working conditions for 7 years, how long do you keep fighting in a job your unhappy with?


    1. PainCorp, wasn’t referring to the vote. I believe NMB has already ruled on the “operating as one business” piece so they can vote.

  1. Even if the pilots dislike their working conditions, they cannot easily quit and go work for another airlines.

    With the pilot unions, and lots of other unions, its all about seniority. If a 25 year 747 captain at US Airways quits to go work for Delta, they start at the bottom, as an on-call first officer and probably a 75% pay cut.

    Of course, the real answer is that they are probably not all that upset, they are just putting on a good show to try and get more money.

    1. Charlie, I know they can’t easily quit and go work for another airline. But, if they’re truly unhappy, then I would imagine after 7 years it might be time to consider a new career if you show up to work hating your job. I believe your latter opinion is likely the correct one, that the union leaders are fighting for more than they got in the last agreement to merge the two airlines.

      Gotta wonder, when can agreement be, well, an agreement? 🙂

      1. I further speculate that some of these pilots have decided that the US Airways and American Airlines management are “The Man” and for some reason it makes them feel good to think that they are sticking it to “The Man” by continually fighting them.

        I always preferred the “working together” approach.

        1. I prefer the working together approach as well. It is possible to have a peaceful relationship between union and management in the airline industry. It just doesn’t seem to be USAPA’s first choice. Or second, for that matter.

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