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Judge Issues Key Ruling in US Airways Pilot Seniority Dispute

CHARLOTTE (TheStreet) -- A federal judge in Phoenix didn't much care for the courtroom tactics utilized by the union representing US Airways pilots, but she nevertheless ruled in its favor in a potentially conclusive court ruling in the eight-year-old seniority battle resulting from a 2005 merger with America West.

U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver, in a ruling issued late Friday, said the US Airline Pilots Association has not breached its duty of fair representation, as former America West Pilots had claimed. Silver also ruled that the former America West pilots need not be separately represented in seniority list discussions with the Allied Pilots Association.

Seniority negotiations will take place under the McCaskill-Bond labor protection protocol approved by Congress in 2007. US Airways became a subsidiary of American Airlines (AAL - Get Report) in a merger that took effect on Dec. 9.

The ruling appeared to mean that arbitrator George Nicolau's controversial 2007 seniority ruling, which followed the 2005 merger of America West and US Airways, need not be specifically considered in compiling the seniority list that will apply in the 2013 merger between US Airways and American.

At the least, adherence to the ruling is not part of the language that will guide APA and USAPA as they enter seniority negotiations.

However, Silver wrote in her 22-page ruling, that USAPA "has never been free -- and never will be free -- to extract the maximum benefits for the east pilots, regardless of the cost to the west pilots." The ruling bristled with negative references to USAPA and declared near its conclusion that "USAPA has succeeded here but it is a Pyrrhic victory" because the union will disappear as a result of the merger, given that APA is far larger.

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USAPA represents pilots from both America West and the former US Airways, known as "the east." Pilots from the east account for about two-thirds of its members. They view the Nicolau ruling as overly favorable to west pilots. After Silver's ruling, some proclaimed the Nicolau ruling to be "dead."

But a west pilot, who asked not to be named, said, "This fight is far from over, and the west pilots are united as ever in our resolve to force all parties involved to live up to their previous commitments."

The Nicolau award resulted from binding arbitration, agreed to by both sides and conducted under the seniority guidelines of the Air Line Pilots Association, which included US Airways at the time of the America West merger. Leonidas LLC, which represents west pilots, said on its Web site that "the seniority dispute is far from over."

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