Pilots for regional carrier SkyWest Airlines will begin voting today on whether to join the nation's largest pilot union while aviators at a sister airline wait for details of a tentative labor contract reached after more than five years of negotiations.
An Air Line Pilots Association spokesman said 2,700 SkyWest pilots will cast ballots by telephone in an election run by the National Mediation Board. Voting will end Nov. 6.
Voting will occur as union leaders gear up to explain the provisional agreement reached late last month to 1,700 pilots at Atlantic Southeast Airlines, another regional carrier owned by St. George-based SkyWest Inc. Delta Air Lines sold ASA to SkyWest in 2005. SkyWest and ASA are feeder carriers for Delta.
"I think [SkyWest pilots] should see this as a positive note. It points to the benefits that you get when you have a collective bargaining agent represent you, "ALPA spokesman Rick Bernskoetter said Monday. "Ultimately, this bumps our pay rates slightly above those of SkyWest, [which] is what is going to happen out of this tentative agreement."
ASA pilots must ratify the contract, which contains moderate pay raises, a $13.5 million signing bonus to be divided among pilots, and contract language that protects jobs if SkyWest transfers some of ASA's aircraft to its nonunion SkyWest Airlines fleet.
First-year pilots flying 50-seat jets will receive the biggest pay increase, a 20 percent jump that moves their annual wage from an industry-lagging $18,300 to about $22,000. Senior pilots flying 70-seat aircraft will get a 1 percent raise, to about $105,000,
"It still doesn't bring us all the way to the top, but it gets us up there in the running, where we feel we are competitive," Bernskoetter said.
Pilots and ASA began negotiating a new contract in September 2002. After years of little progress, ALPA asked the mediation board twice in the past year to declare negotiations at an impasse. A third request, which would have started a 30-day cooling-off period that could have led to a strike, was made in August.
Bernskoetter said the pace of the talks picked up suddenly when Jerry Atkin, SkyWest's chief executive, made an unexpected appearance at the 293rd negotiation session on Sept. 26. Three days later, the tentative agreement was inked.
"It's been a long road to get to this point, so it feels good to be close to a final deal," ASA spokeswoman Kate Modolo said.
In August, ALPA asked the mediation board for an election to decide if SkyWest pilots want to be represented by the union. ALPA said it made the request after receiving enough cards from pilots authorizing the union to request a collective bargaining vote.
SkyWest pilots have tried twice since 1999 to affiliate with a union. The last effort in 2004 failed when only a third of eligible pilots voted for an in-house association to act as their bargaining agent.
"SkyWest has an exceptional relationship with our employees and our 35-year history shows that our company works closely with our pilots and all work groups," spokeswoman Marissa Snow said in an e-mail.
Rapidly growing SkyWest flies for Delta, United Airlines and Midwest Airlines. It has hired about 2,000 employees this year, including several hundred pilots.
* Headquarters: St. George
* Founded: 1972
* Employees: 11,326, including 2,700 nonunionized pilots
* Cities served: 150 in the United States and Canada
* Average number of daily departures: 1,794
* Passengers carried in 2006: 19.5 million
* Number of aircraft: 277
* Headquarters: Atlanta
* Founded: 1979
* Employees: 4,343, including about 1,700 unionized pilots
* Cities served: 146 in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean
* Average number of daily departures: 868
* Passengers carried in 2006: 12.2 million
* Number of aircraft: 159