- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

From combined dispatches

US Airways pilots yesterday ousted their union of 59 years and agreed to be represented by a new group after an internal dispute over seniority.

The rare decertification election, supervised by the National Mediation Board, gave the fledgling US Airline Pilots Association the right to represent the 5,300 pilots in US Airways’ system.

The group was created and supported mostly by pilots from US Airways who clashed with other pilots after their carrier was acquired by America West in 2005.

The unions’ struggles have become a cautionary tale as a wave of consolidation sweeps through the airline industry.

Although US Airways’ profits surged in the first year after the consolidation, problems among its pilots have continued to fester.

Pilots have said that disagreements over seniority led to shouting matches in airport terminals. Supporters of rival pilot unions — the Air Line Pilots Association and the US Airline Pilots Association— have sent each other threatening e-mails, engaged in at least one shoving match and called each other to the parking lot to settle their arguments.

Seniority is extremely important for pilots. Their place in the company pecking order decides what planes they can fly, what routes they will take and when they can take vacation.

After the vote tally was announced yesterday, Air Line Pilots Association officials said US Airways pilots have done nothing to improve their union representation.

“We don’t think it will have much effect on us, but it will have a drastic, drastic effect on the US Airways pilots,” said Pete Janhunen, Air Line Pilots Association spokesman.

The new union can do nothing more about seniority issues than their old union did, he said.

“We foresee them being mired in lawsuits,” Mr. Janhunen said. “They have made what can only be deemed irresponsible promises to pilots.”

The Air Line Pilots Association is the nation’s biggest union for pilots. It continues to represent about 56,000 of them.

US Airline Pilots Association officials said their rival Air Line Pilots Association might be too big to adequately represent the interests of pilots from a single airline.

“Our pilots will now benefit from single-carrier representation, solely focused on our pilots’ needs and fully accountable only to them,” Stephen Bradford, interim president of the US Airline Pilots Association, said after the union’s election victory yesterday.

Northwest Airlines Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. had hoped their pilots would agree on seniority before the airlines announced plans to merge this week. But Northwest pilots refused to go along and the companies moved ahead without a pilot agreement.

US Airways Group Inc. agreed to contracts with all of its employee groups except pilots, flight attendants and baggage and ramp employees. The baggage and ramp employee union signed off on a tentative agreement last week.

Staff reporter Tom Ramstack contributed to this article.

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