PHOENIX (CN) – US Airways wants a federal judge to settle a seniority dispute between its pilots and the pilots who worked for America West before it merged with US Airways in 2005.
The pilots are divided over how to integrate their airlines’ seniority lists. Many US Airways pilots had been flying longer because of the airline’s age and favor a strict “date-of-hire” system, while America West pilots want a seniority system that takes into account hours and miles flown before the merger.
America West pilots don’t like the date-of-hire system, and US Airways pilots say they would be disadvantage by the other system because they were furloughed during the merger.
US Airways says it is legally obligated to negotiate with the US Airline Pilots Association, the union that replaced the Air Line Pilots Association.
But the airline says the former America West pilots have “made crystal clear” that they will accept nothing but the “generally favorable” seniority list created during arbitration proceedings with the old union.
The arbitration list did not rank pilots based solely on their dates of hire, but took into account America West’s relative strength before the merger. This list placed 500 US Airways pilots at the top of the seniority list, and 1,700 then-furloughed pilots at the bottom of the list.
The new union insists that US Airways accept a collective bargaining agreement incorporating a strict date-of-hire seniority list. Former America West pilots sued the union and US Airways, claiming they must adopt the seniority ranking proposed during arbitration.
US Airways claims that unless the court clarifies whether the union’s insistence on the date-based seniority list violates the Railway Labor Act, which requires the union to “exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, and working conditions … in order to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier.”
If the dispute remains unresolved, US Airways says it will face drawn out negotiations, potentially costing US Airways “hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and customer goodwill.”
It adds that the 9th Circuit has provided “no guidance” on the issue, because the court ruled in June that the pilots’ claims are not yet ripe for review.
US Airways claims it has always been — and still is — neutral in the dispute. But it says it’s also legally obligated to negotiate with the US Airline Pilots Association, “and the pilots’ resolution of their seniority dispute is a necessary condition for the successful negotiation of any such agreement.”
US Airways is represented by Karen Gillen in Tempe, Ariz.