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Thu, Mar 13, 2008

Union Vote Looms For US Airways Pilots

East Vs. West Showdown Will Begin Next Week

In 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 Association.

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 arbitrator's ruling.

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 unions.

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 do."

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.

FMI: www.usairways.com, www.usairlinepilots.org, www.alpa.org

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