Before becoming Allegiant CEO in 2003, Gallagher co-founded ValuJet and was principal owner of commuter airline WestAir. He has always favored a low-cost approach, which has included buying older airplanes, outsourcing maintenance, targeting low-budget fliers and resisting unionization.
It has worked spectacularly well at Allegiant, just as it did in the early days at ValuJet.
But unlike the ValuJet pilots, the Allegiant pilots unionized, voting to join the Teamsters in 2012. It is safe to say that the two parties have been at odds ever since.
In fact, in two and a half years of seeking to negotiate a contract, the parties have reached tentative agreements on two of the approximately 30 contract areas, said Dan Wells, an Atlas Air captain who is president of Teamster Local 1224, which represents the approximately 500 Allegiant pilots.
In January, pilots voted 465-8 to authorize a strike. Now, the union is moving on two fronts to use the threat of a strike to improve working conditions.
Pilots were prepared to strike on April 2, but on April 1 a U.S. district court judge in Las Vegas issued a temporary restraining order. A hearing is scheduled for Friday, April 10.
The case involves the union’s contention that Allegiant violated the terms of a contract that existed before the Teamsters were voted in. The primary violations, the union said, involved changing a disability plan and changing a pilot scheduling system.
In June 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Gordon determined that “the Allegiant Air Pilot’s Advocacy Group was the Allegiant pilots ‘representative’ (under) the Railway Labor Act” and that the group’s 2010 pilot work rule agreement constituted a “status quo” binding agreement. That meant that the company could not alter terms of the advocacy group’s contract once the Teamsters became the bargaining agent.
Wells said the union has the right to strike because, under Gordon’s ruling, Allegiant broke the law when it violated the status quo. But the carrier argues it has appealed that ruling.
“It is our position that we do not currently, and have not in the past, have a contract with our pilots, so there can be no status quo violation,” said Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler said. “Further, the change in schedule procedures, were made by Allegiant as part of our compliance with new FAA guidelines for pilot scheduling.”
Wheeler said Allegiant has now complied with the four points that Gordon cited in his ruling as areas in the pilot advocacy group contract that the carrier had violated. Wells said “the company flatly did not comply with the points that were a major dispute.”
On a second track, the two sides are negotiating under the National Mediation Board process. At the end of that process the NMB can declare an impasse and release the parties. However, talks have not reached that point: the two sides are scheduled to talk again later this month.
But a strike does not depend on the NMB process. In an April 2 letter to Allegiant pilots, David Bourne, director of the IBT airline division, wrote “Your right to strike for status quo violations (is) separate and apart from a strike regarding Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act.”
Gallagher, a generous contributor to his alma mater, the University of California at Davis, has not sought to conceal his disdain for unions. According to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gallagher declared in 2011 that “Unionization is one of those things that clogs the arteries and makes you less quick and not as nimble as you need to be on top of your game.”
(Ted Reed - Forbes)