Over the last four years, pilots for US Airways gave up billions of dollars in promised compensation to help the airline survive. Now they want some of it back.
Leaders of US Airways' chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association union walked an informational picket line at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday to press the point, handing out brochures that described their company as "a thriving airline" with a $305 million second-quarter profit, less than a year after emerging from bankruptcy court protection.
The $6.8 billion in compensation pilots gave up includes pay raises and pension benefits they were to have received since 2002, when the airline began the first of two trips through Chapter 11 and demanded givebacks from employees, said Jack Stephan, chairman of US Airways' chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association.
The average salary for a US Airways captain has dropped 43 percent and pension benefits for retirees are 70 percent less than they would have been without the concessions, union spokesman Arnie Gentile said. A captain for the airline who made $160,000 a year in 2002 now makes about $120,000, he said.
US Airways has said it expects to make money for the full year. W. Douglas Parker, the airline's chairman and chief executive, recently cashed in $9 million in stock options that date back as far as 1995. Parker was previously CEO of America West Airlines, which merged with US Airways in September and adopted the latter's name.
"We're not going to stand idly by while Doug Parker gets $9 million," Stephan said, as 25 other pilots walked silently in a long rectangular formation on a sidewalk near US Airways' Terminal B ticket counter.
The union said this was the first time it has engaged in informational picketing since the airline came out of bankruptcy protection almost a year ago.
US Airways has integrated many of the operations of the two airlines, but the US Airways and America West contingents of its pilot and flight attendant groups are still working separately. The company and union officials, who represent both US Airways and America West pilots, have been negotiating for nine months over a single contract that would cover employees of both carriers. The airline employs about 2,500 pilots, down from almost 6,000 before Sept. 11, 2001.
In a statement, the union said the negotiations so far have resulted in "little progress ... in economic and operational areas" dealing with pay and work rules.
US Airways officials said that the company needs to integrate the employees of the two airlines in a "cost-neutral" way. US Airways' pay levels are now the industry norm and the company must keep them that way to compete with other airlines, they said.
"In 2007, we want pilot costs to not increase any more than they are now in the two separate contracts," senior vice president Elise Eberwein said.
Many pilots on the America West side of the company are scheduled for a pay raise next year, but the vast majority of those living under the pre-merger US Airways contract aren't scheduled for an increase until 2009, both union and company officials said.
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