CHICAGO (CN) - United pilots who claim they are being cheated out of millions of dollars of seniority-based pay failed to nab a 7th Circuit reversal Wednesday.
Earlier this year, 470 United Airlines pilots brought a class action against the 51,000-member Air Line Pilots Association union and United.
After United's $3 billion merger with Continental, the union negotiated a deal that gave all pre-merger United pilots less than five years of time-worked credit, no matter how long they had actually flown. With the pilots claiming that they were paid at least $12 per hour too little since December 2012, millions of dollars were at stake.
U.S. District Judge James Holderman threw out the claims in March, however, calling them "minor disputes" subject to arbitration as opposed to grounds for a class action.
A three-judge appellate panel showed little sympathy for the pilots' plight at oral arguments last month and affirmed dismissal in a pithy opinion Wednesday.
"Combining work forces following an airline merger is not for the faint-hearted," Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court. "The union and United worked out a series of deals that have enabled two groups of pilots to work as one without undue friction. That's a significant accomplishment, not a source of legal liability."
Noted that both the airline and the union have complied with the new collective-bargaining agreement, the court said that the pilots would need to prove bad faith by the union to seek recovery.
"A union would act in bad faith if, for example, it disfavored members who supported a losing candidate for union office" or "if it favored members of one race over members of a different race," Easterbrook explained, pointing out that there were no such allegations here.
Finding the behavior rational, the court said that discrimination against the plaintiffs would have contravened the union's own interests.
"Plaintiffs insist that the union discriminated in favor of pilots from pre-merger Continental," Easterbrook wrote. "If the union's leadership did that systematically, it would be political suicide; pre-merger United was the larger carrier, and its pilots would not allow the union to subordinate their interests."
As it did at oral arguments, the circuit appeared uninterested in delving into the complexities of union negotiations in its judgment.
"Because the suit was dismissed on the pleadings, we cannot tell why the union and United struck the precise bargain they did, but allegations of the complaint, plus terms of the agreements, are enough in themselves to defeat a claim of discrimination," Easterbrook wrote. "There was need of compromise here."