Washington D.C. – Pilots at legacy United Airlines and legacy Continental Airlines, speaking clearly, loudly and with a unified voice, have overwhelmingly authorized a legal withdrawal of service pursuant to the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
Almost 94% (93.9%) of the eligible pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), took part in the ballot, with 99% voting in support of a withdrawal of services, if required. This authorization comes after nearly two years of negotiations for a new joint pilot contract following the merger of United and Continental, announced May 2010. If the National Mediation Board (NMB) concludes that further mediated negotiations will not produce an agreement, it could release both sides into economic self-help after the expiration of a 30-day cooling-off period, at which point a strike could ensue.
Said Capt. Jay Pierce, chairman of the ALPA unit representing the Continental pilots, “The strength of this vote clearly indicates the level of frustration our pilots have with management’s disinterest in reaching a conclusion to negotiations. Our pilots are tired of management’s lack of progress with the merger and the damage to our airline that grows every day. Management would be wise to note the resolve of their pilots and to reconsider the substantial benefits that can be obtained by working with us. The merger cannot be completed and the synergies will not be fully realized without completed labor contracts. A strike is never the preferred path to reaching agreement, but our pilots have demonstrated that they realize it may be necessary.”
Captain Jay Heppner, chairman of the United Master Executive Council, remarked, “Over the last decade, pilots made several major sacrifices to help the airline survive and management has done absolutely nothing to restore those sacrifices. In fact, they have done the opposite by offshoring and outsourcing our jobs at the very same time they have given themselves millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and perks. When management makes decisions based on their own needs instead of the needs of customers and employees, the company suffers, which is what is happening today. If a strike is what it is going to take to wake up the company’s leadership, the pilots are prepared to act.”
The vote by pilots followed multiple letters from ALPA to the National Mediation Board (NMB) in May and June, requesting that the NMB assist the parties to bring about an agreement by proffering arbitration, and if not accepted by both parties, issuing a release under Section 5, First of the Act. If the NMB releases the parties to what is referred to as “self-help,” the pilots would be allowed to take lawful action, including a strike, following a 30-day cooling off period. The pilots are involved in joint negotiations for a labor contract that will cover pilots at both airlines, are wholly dissatisfied with the pace of the talks. The parties initiated negotiations in May 2010. The parties jointly requested mediation by the NMB in December 2010 and mediated negotiations were initiated on February 28, 2011. The parties have been in mediated bargaining since that time.
The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) is the largest airline pilot union in the world and represents more than 53,000 pilots at 37 U.S. and Canadian airlines. There are approximately 5,000 pilots at Continental Airlines and an additional 7,000 at United Airlines.