SkyWest Pilots Again Look to ALPA

The issue driving the pilots to attempt their third organizing effort in seven years has less to do with wages and benefits than it does about more control over their fate in coming years.


The effort by SkyWest Airlines pilots to affiliate with ALPA is their third attempt since 1999 to form a union. Their last try in 2004 failed when only a third of eligible pilots voted for an in-house association to act as their bargaining agent. The decisive defeat was a victory to SkyWest, which argued that a unionized pilot force would hurt its competitive advantage in the regional airline industry. Two years later, the company continues to signal its hostility to a union, whether it is an unaffiliated association of SkyWest pilots or a national union such ALPA.

"There is little doubt that ALPA would be very excited to collect union dues from our 2,500 pilots," SkyWest President Ron Reber said through a spokeswoman.

"We believe our flight deck officers are well represented by SAPA [a company-funded group with no bargaining power] and continue our commitment to open and honest communication with the SAPA representatives," Reber said.

But pilots think the channels of conversation are plugging up, and that view is often expressed in organizing committee meetings and teleconferences that have been conducted in several cities across the West, where SkyWest routes are concentrated.

"They are realizing that right now their future lies in the hands of management and they have very little input into what might happen to the company in the future," said James Magee, a pilot for American Eagle who represented ALPA at a dinner for SkyWest pilots in Salt Lake earlier this month.

"Right now, they have no job protection. There are no guarantees as to what their salaries might be in the future or where they might be based. There are no basic rules about how many days do they work or how often do they work," Magee said.

"We want a legally binding contract. We want some job protections and [for SkyWest] to remove our at-will employment status," said the SkyWest pilot who is a member of the organizing committee.

At ASA, the impasse blocking a new pilot contract is wages. Negotiations that had been stalled earlier this year were restarted in November and are expected to pick up again in January. ASA pilot Bernskoetter said progress was made on "quality-of-life issues," but the sides are far apart on compensation.

"We still haven't talked about the monetary issues, and that's where we are going to find out just how genuinely we are ready to negotiate. Those are the issues that are either going to make or break these negotiations," he said.

It isn't clear what each side is seeking. But ASA spokeswoman Kate Modolo said the airline isn't asking for salary cuts.

"We really want to get a contract that is responsible, that recognizes the importance of our pilot group and our company, that positions ASA to succeed well into the future, not just in the short term," Modolo said.

What are pilots paid?

* SkyWest: Pilot captain with 10 years experience, flying a CRJ regional jet: $74 per hour. Monthly guarantee: 75 hours.

* ASA: Pilot captain with 10 years experience, flying a CRJ-700 regional jet: $81 per hour. Monthly guarantee: 75 hours.

SkyWest

SkyWest Inc. is a fast-growing regional airline holding company, which owns the subsidiaries SkyWest Airlines and Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA).



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