The contract with Seattle-based Alaska Air Group, which is in the process of merging Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, lasts until April 1, 2020. Alaska Air Group acquired San Francisco-based Virgin America for $2.6 billion in cash and $1.4 billion in assumed debt in late 2016. A joint contract covering 2,700 pilots at the two carriers, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), was a major merger item that needed to be completed.
Alaska management and ALPA agreed to enter binding arbitration in August after what ALPA called a “contentious period” of contract talks failed to produce agreement on a contract.
A three-member arbitration panel awarded the pilots significant, immediate pay increases in an Oct. 31 ruling, but ALPA said the ruling fell short in terms of the level of pay awarded and because of a lack of “job-security protections” related to regional jet flying.
“The contract includes pay increases above what was requested by Alaska Airlines management, but well below the rates sought by the pilots,” ALPA’s Alaska Master Executive Council (MEC) said in a statement.
According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, a senior Alaska Airlines pilot will get an immediate 16% pay increase and a senior Virgin America pilot will get an immediate 33% pay increase. Additional pay increases are scheduled for April 2018 and April 2019.
“While the arbitrators’ decision does include what, under most circumstances, would be considered significant raises, it still leaves the combined pilot group well behind our peers at other successful airlines,” ALPA Alaska MEC chairman Chris Notaro said, adding that the pilots are also “disappointed and frustrated” arbitration was needed. “Alaska management failed to negotiate an industry-standard contract, and instead relied on a third-party to issue a decision with respect to our first contract as a combined pilot group,” he said.
Pilots from the two airlines must now create an integrated seniority list.
The length of the contract—lasting less than three years—means pressure will soon mount for talks to begin on the next contract. ALPA indicated negotiations will commence again in 2019.
“We respect the decision of the arbitrators and the process they went through,” Alaska spokesperson Bryan Zidar said. “Our commitment is to keep our company strong with low costs, low fares and great experience for [passengers] while paying competitively. It is a delicate balance.”
(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)