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West Pilots Beat East in US Airways Case

A federal jury ruled Wednesday against pilots from the pre-merger US Airways (symbol), who formed a new labor union in order to reject an arbitrator' s seniority ruling that appeared to favor pilots from America West after the two airlines merged in 2005.

The jury in U.S. District Court in Phoenix ruled that the U.S. Airline Pilots Association breached its duty to represent the six America West pilots who were the plaintiffs in the case.

"All the parties knew going in that selecting an arbitrator and going to arbitration was final and binding on both groups," said Ray Burkett, a six-year America West pilot who was vice chairman of the Las Vegas chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which was ousted by the U.S. Airline Pilots Association (USAPA) in a bitter April 2008 union election.

"Their argument was that the ruling was unfair," Burkett said. "Our position was about honoring something that we all said going in that we were going to honor."

Burkett also questioned a decision to have the captain and first officer of Flight 1549 (Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles), which made a miraculous landing on the Hudson River in January, testify on behalf of USAPA. "It was nothing more than a ploy to the jury," he said. "The jury was probably insulted by having those two guys there because it appeared to be manipulative. It didn't really have anything to do with this case."

The essence of the argument by pilots from the pre-merger US Airways, known as "the east," was that the seniority ruling was simply a step on the path to seniority integration, which is ultimately nothing more than a section of the contract negotiated between the pilots union and the airline.

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