(CN) – The 9th Circuit said it’s too soon to decide the seniority claims of pilots who worked for America West before it merged with US Airways in 2005.
After the airlines merged, they had to combine their seniority lists. US Airways pilots had generally been around longer and favored a strict date-of-hire system, while the AWA pilots wanted a seniority system that took into account AWA’s relative strength before the merger.
Their union submitted the dispute to an arbitration panel. Dissatisfied with the union’s proposal, US Airways pilots successfully led an effort to replace the Air Line Pilots Association with a new union, the US Airline Pilots Association.
Six pilots from the old America West sued the new union, claiming it negotiated a seniority contract that favored US Airways pilots at their expense.
The district court agreed and ordered the new union to negotiate a seniority proposal that incorporated the arbitration panel’s decisions.
But a three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit ruled that the pilots’ claims are not ripe for review.
US Airways pilots represent about 5,100 of the newly merged group, while American West has only about 1,900 pilots under its wing in the litigation.
The majority ruled that there is no evidence yet that the new union will treat any of the pilots unfairly. The new union has not yet finalized its contract with US Airways, Judge Wallace Tashima wrote for the majority, so there is no assurance union members will seal that deal.
Seniority in airlines determines who gets the better routes and who will be laid off during down times, making it a critical point in union negotiations.
In his dissent from the majority’s decision, Judge Jay Bybee wrote, “No one disputes that West Pilots are now suffering, and will continue to suffer, ‘continuing uncertainty and expense’ due to the seniority impasse. They are entitled to have their claims heard.”