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US Airways Pilots Vote for New Union

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A dissident group of pilots won a historic election at US Airways (LCC) Thursday, ousting the Air Line Pilots Association as their representatives after 57 years.

The recently formed U.S. Airline Pilots Association gained 2,723 votes, compared with 2,254 votes for ALPA, in a union election conducted by the National Mediation Board. About 95% of the 5,238 eligible pilots voted, including around 4,300 active pilots.

The vast majority of 1,800 pilots from the former America West likely voted for ALPA, meaning that only about 500 of the pilots from the former US Airways, known as the "east," failed to support the new union.

The primary issue was an arbitrator's ruling on pilot seniority that followed the 2005 merger between the two airlines. The 2007 ruling appeared to favor west pilots over east pilots, placing hundreds of east pilots with 15 or more years at the airline behind west pilots with a couple of years.

The two pilot groups have been bitterly divided since the ruling. But about two dozen USAPA backers, who gathered at a Charlotte hotel to await the election results, said they would seek a peaceful accord with the west pilots.

"We will welcome them into the process, so that we can represent all pilots," said Mark King, a Philadelphia-based captain who is USAPA secretary-treasurer. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't that way. We can't succeed as a union if we are fighting each other."

King said the ruling no longer has any standing since it was done under the auspices of ALPA, which has been replaced. He declined to be specific about how to take the next steps toward pilot integration, saying that will be worked out in talks with west pilots, who will be expected to select representatives from their bases in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Beyond a few cheers and some brief hugs and handshakes, there was little celebration as the results were communicated in a phone call from USAPA leaders at the NMB offices in Washington.

USAPA spokesman Scott Theuer said the union is prepared to take over at 10 a.m. Friday and will handle representational, grievance and other issues from its Charlotte headquarters.

But ALPA spokesman Pete Janhunen said USAPA may be overwhelmed by the task ahead of it.

"While their glee in the moment is understandable, it is a sad day for all airline pilots," he said. US Airways pilots will lose medical, legal and representational assistance to which they have grown accustomed, he said.

Also, USAPA could face litigation, Janhunen said. "As we have said, the new representational agent will inherit all the agreements we had, including the seniority list, and if they fail to implement it, they are likely to be sued for a lack of fair representation by the west pilots."

Meanwhile, US Airways said it will honor the election results and "reach out to USAPA for talks toward a single agreement for our pilots," who continue to work under separate contracts for the east and west.

The merger that formed US Airways was the last big transaction in the airline sector. This week, Delta (DAL - Get Report) and Northwest (NWA) agreed to merge, and many analysts expect more consolidation. Continental (CAL - Get Report) and UAL's (UAUA) United have been named as potential partners, though US Airways is said to itself have held talks with United.

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