Will SkyWest pilots unionize?

Aug. 22, 2007

The Air Line Pilots Association on Monday asked the National Mediation Board for an election to decide if SkyWest Airlines pilots want to be represented by the nation's largest airline pilot union.

ALPA decided to seek an election after receiving enough interest from SkyWest pilots in joining the union, ALPA said in a letter mailed to about 2,700 aviators.

It isn't clear how many pilots have signed cards authorizing the union to request a collective bargaining vote. On Monday, ALPA spokesman Pete Janhunen refused to reveal the number because the union doesn't want to tip its hand to the company.

Over the past year, ALPA has said it had obtained authorization cards from more than half of St. George-based SkyWest's pilots. But it declined to approach the mediation board until at least 70 percent had indicated their support for a vote.

"We think we are going to win the election. ALPA doesn't play to lose. Our senior leadership and the [SkyWest pilots] organizing committee agree that the time is right to file the cards" with the mediation board, Janhunen said.

SkyWest spokeswoman Marissa Snow said the airline would not comment because it had not been informed by the union. In the past, the airline has said it is opposed to a pilots union.

"We haven't been notified of anything of this nature, so I can't really speak to the topic," Snow said.

SkyWest pilots are the largest nonunion group of commercial aviators in the country, according to ALPA.

The rapidly growing regional airline flies passengers for Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Midwest Airlines. It has hired about 2,000 workers this year, including hundreds of pilots, and has plans to hire more to keep up with growth.

In the letter to pilots, ALPA said the mediation board will hold the election after it compares the authorization cards with company employment records to verify the showing of pilot interest in an election. The board also will put together a list of eligible voters. That should take 60 days.

The board will then mail confidential telephone voting instructions to the pilots, who likely will have 30 days to cast their ballots.

Janhunen said pilots will vote on two questions - whether they want a union to represent them and whether that union should be ALPA. Simple majority votes are required, he said.

ALPA hasn't detected widespread dissatisfaction with SkyWest, Janhunen said. Instead, SkyWest's rapid growth has made pilots feel uncertain about their jobs, he said.

"Usually, in this kind of case, [pilots] realize they don't have an enforceable [labor] contract, they don't have an agreement that guarantees any aspect of their careers," he said. "There comes a point for pilots when scraps from the master's table are no longer a sufficient diet."

The union's reluctance to pursue a vote until now may be based on past failures by pilots to affiliate with a union. An effort in 2004 failed when only a third of eligible pilots voted for an in-house association to act as their bargaining agent. An organizing drive by ALPA in 1999 also failed.

In May, a federal judge barred SkyWest from interfering with organizing activities by the SkyWest Pilots ALPA Organizing Committee. The association won a restraining order blocking the airline from preventing pilots from posting and handing out literature and wearing ALPA insignia on pins while on duty.