US Airways Asks Court for Seniority Ruling

After five years without clarity on pilot seniority, US Airways wants the court to say it can negotiate a deal.
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TEMPE, Ariz. (


) --

US Airways


moved Monday to end the festering five-year seniority dispute between its pilots, asking a federal court to enable it to negotiate a contract without fear that it will face either a strike or liability as a result.

The carrier filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the seniority issue, unresolved since the 2005 merger. Last year, the same court ruled the U.S. Airline Pilots Association was not fairly representing all of its pilots because it had not implemented a controversial seniority ruling, the Nicolau award, which appears to favor pilots from the former

America West


In June, the U.S. Appeals Court in San Francisco

overturned that ruling.

In a letter to pilots released Monday, Executive Vice President Steve Johnson wrote that the airline's filing "requests that the court clarify the company's legal rights and obligations with respect to the seniority dispute and new single contract."

The key questions, Johnson wrote, are: "Must the company insist the Nicolau award be included in the new single agreement? May the company enter into a single agreement that does not include the Nic? If the company enters into a legal agreement that does not include the Nic, would it have legal liability to the west pilots?"

In the lawsuit, the carrier reminds that it "has never taken any position on the merits of this seniority dispute; it has always been and still is neutral." But the airline wants the matter to be resolved so that it faces neither liability for not implementing the seniority ruling nor a job action if it does implement the seniority ruling.

In its June ruling, the appeals court appeared to suggest that the Nicolau seniority ruling might never be implemented if USAPA can design a contract with alternative protection for west pilots.

"Even under the district court's injunction mandating USAPA to pursue the Nicolau Award, it is uncertain that the west pilots' preferred seniority system ever would be effectuated," the appeals court said. It is possible that USAPA will eventually implement a contract "that does not work the disadvantages plaintiffs fear, even if that proposal is not the Nicolau Award."

Johnson wrote that the appeals court did not expressly rule on the seniority dispute and did not say "whether USAPA and the company would be exposed to legal liability if the union and the company agreed to a non-Nicolau seniority list." Rather, he said, the appeals court's decision clearly allows for "a future valid legal claim against a seniority list agreement that did not include the Nicolau award."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.