Friday, June 26, 2015

Ex-America West pilots win U.S. court ruling on seniority rights

A federal appeals court on Friday ordered a union negotiating seniority rights of former US Airways and America West pilots to stop favoring the US Airways pilots, in a divisive decade-old dispute overhanging the 2013 merger that created American Airlines Group Inc.

By a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals instructed the US Airline Pilots Association to defend a 2007 arbitration panel ruling widely seen as favorable to America West pilots, if it wanted a role in integrating pilots from the former US Airways Group Inc and AMR Corp, American's parent.

Circuit Judge Jay Bybee said the USAPA violated its duty of fair representation toward the America West pilots through its "continuing discrimination" toward them.

The decision may have a bearing on hearings beginning Monday on integrating the carriers' seniority lists under the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots. Representatives for the USAPA and America West pilots will participate.

Seniority is often considered when determining salaries, benefits and job protections.

The USAPA and its lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. Marty Harper, a lawyer for the America West pilots, said they are "extremely pleased" with the decision. An American spokesman said the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier had no position in the dispute.

The dispute stemmed from a failure to reach consensus on the seniority rights of 5,100 former US Airways pilots and 1,900 former America West pilots after those carriers merged in 2005.

In May 2007, an arbitration panel led by George Nicolau said 1,700 US Airways pilots on furlough when the merger occurred belonged at the bottom in seniority.

Angered US Airways pilots soon left their union and formed the USAPA, bringing the America West pilots with them.

But the America West pilots said the new union treats them as inferiors, and misled them into voting for an agreement related to the US Airways-American merger by calling the seniority terms "neutral," even as it told former US Airways pilots that the arbitration ruling was "dead."

In January 2014, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver in Phoenix refused to order the USAPA to honor the arbitration ruling, despite calling its actions "sufficiently disturbing to make this a very close call."

Bybee, however, said the USAPA was "constitutionally committed" to repudiating the arbitration ruling, and shortchanged the America West pilots.

"It may be perfectly legitimate, in the abstract, for a union to take measures to avoid infighting while negotiating a contract with an employer," but not if such a conflict results from "the unilateral, discriminatory action of the union itself," Bybee wrote.

The case is Addington et al v. US Airline Pilots Association et al, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 13-00471.

(Jonathan Stempel - Reuters)

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