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JetBlue Pilots Stuck Playing Catch-Up On Contract Negotiations

Failed Merger Attempt Leaves Pilots Negotiating Last in the Pack

JetBlue Airways pilots have "announced their renewed focus on negotiating a standalone collective bargaining agreement with the Company" according to their union, the Air Line Pilots Association.

The carrier recently swung for a $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines and whiffed the ball in court where the deal was shut down on antitrust grounds. For now, a pin has been put in that appeal that will see things advance this summer, but for now, JetBlue pilots worry about "uncertainties" throughout the carrier. As such, pilot leaders are "shifting their focus from negotiating a joint collective bargaining agreement for a combined JetBlue-Spirit pilot group to preparing to commence bargaining discussions for a successor JetBlue contract later this year."

It appears the pilot corpus is quite pessimistic about the possibility of a merger making its way past appeals, since they're getting the ball rolling on a company-only contract to the July 24th merger date. The First Circuit court of appeals is expected to grant a decision on the case after completing oral arguments in June, likely granting enough time to get the ball rolling before the July 24th merger limit. That's not too long to wait, if JetBlue pilots thought there would be a fair chance of the merger going through. Instead, company negotiations can begin at JetBlue - for JetBlue alone - "as soon as August".

Captain Justin Houck, chair of the JetBlue unit of ALPA, laid out the union's case. “When the merger was initially proposed, we opted for a short-term extension rather than a full comprehensive contract, anticipating a joint collective bargaining agreement post-merger. However, the court decision in January has altered the landscape significantly. Without the merger, our attention must shift to attaining our contractual objectives as a single unified pilot group.”

In January 2023, JetBlue pilots ratified a short-term contract extension that wallpapered over the situation with some economic improvements. That was only intended to bridge things and retain personnel during the hiring bonanza, a deal meant to see them through the merger process until the combined Spirit-JetBlue pilot base could begin negotiating as one block. Now, JetBlue pilots are stuck fighting an uphill battle after the rest of the industry has already completed their own contracts with all-time successes - without that added negotiating power of a few thousand heads from Spirit. It’s a bummer for them, since water cooler rumors point to a cooling hiring market for pilots compared to the fever pitch of 2021.

“While the contract extension last year served as a temporary measure during the merger process, it was never intended to substitute for a comprehensive contract,” continued Houck. “In the event the merger does not go forward, JetBlue pilots are ready to achieve the full collective bargaining agreement they have earned.”



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