America West Pilots Win a Long Dispute

     PHOENIX (CN) – A pilots union must advocate for former America West pilots without supporting a seniority list that favors US Airways pilots, the Ninth Circuit ruled.
     The Friday ruling follows a decade of seniority disputes between pilots after the companies merged in 2005. US Airways has since merged with American Airlines.
     America West pilots sued the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA) and US Airways in 2008, claiming they must adopt a seniority list created during arbitration in 2007 that considered a pilot’s date of hire, and also America West’s strength before the merger.
     The arbitration placed 500 US Airways pilots at the top of the seniority list, but 1,700 of its pilots at the bottom because they were furloughed due to the merger.
     Many US Airways pilots preferred a date-of-hire system, which would have favored pilots who had been flying longer because of the airline’s age.
     A district court found for the America West pilots and ordered USAPA to negotiate for implementation of the seniority list created in arbitration, but the Ninth Circuit dismissed for ripeness.
     US Airways and USAPA then filed suit in 2010 , seeking declaratory judgment that the union’s date-of-hire seniority list did not breach the duty of fair representation to America West pilots.
     U.S. District Court Senior Judge Roslyn O. Silver of Arizona found for the union in the declaratory judgment action, that its “seniority proposal does not breach its duty of fair representation provided it is supported by a legitimate union purpose.”
     In Friday’s 2-1 ruling, Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee vacated Silver’s decision, finding the USAPA must defend the arbitration list favorable to America West pilots.
     “USAPA has served as the stalking horse for the east pilots’ exclusive interests and left the west pilots bereft of representation,” Bybee wrote. “USAPA’s manifest disregard for the interests of the west pilots and its discriminatory conduct towards them constitutes a clear breach of duty.”
     In dissent, Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote that the America West pilots’ claims are moot.
     “USAPA can no longer ‘conduct seniority integration’ because it has been overtaken by the US Airways/American Airlines merger, and conduct of the seniority integration proceedings is now the responsibility of APA, the bargaining agent for all pilots of new American Airlines, including both East and West Pilots,” Tashima wrote.
     Bybee’s decision may affect hearings with the Allied Pilots Association to integrate the US Airways and American Airlines seniority lists. Allied Pilots Association is the collective bargaining union for American Airlines pilots.
     Bybee found that the only participation USAPA may have during the hearings is to “advocate” for the arbitration list.
     Marty Harper, an attorney for America West pilots, called it “a great ruling and, you know, a huge relief after six or seven years of having this dispute with them. So, big relief.”
     Harper said the ruling will raise a lot of issues.
     “It will be a while, I think, before this sorts out to some degree. It creates a lot of issue for APA, for what do they do,” Harper said. “I imagine American has some issues in how do they push this forward. So I don’t know, the world is different Monday as to where it was Friday.”
     Josh Freed, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the Texas-based airline is not taking sides in the dispute.
     The US Airline Pilots Association did not respond to a request for comment.
     The case was reversed in part, vacated in part and remanded. Costs of appeal were awarded to the plaintiffs-appellants.

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