US Airways Pilots Protest Slow Talks

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- In terms of the US Airways ( LCC) pilot contract, little has changed since about 400 uniformed pilots quietly demonstrated at Charlotte International Airport in November, 2006, protesting the slow pace of contract talks.

On Tuesday, about 300 pilots did the same thing for the same reason at the same place, standing quietly in uniform for two hours.

"There's been almost no progress," said Mike Cleary, president of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, at the event. "These guys have been working under bankruptcy wages for five and a half years," since they signed a contract during the carrier's bankruptcy in 2005. "There's not that much left of their careers, and they've had it." The average age of pilots from the former, pre-merger US Airways is about 56.

US Airways Executive Vice President Steve Johnson said in an interview that negotiators meet regularly and that delay is partially the fault of USAPA, which "has a lot of influence over the negotiating agenda" and has decided to focus on smaller issues, such as those that involve check airmen and "the precise way in which 400 grievances, some predating the merger, would be resolved.

"They are driving the process by spending so much time on issues that are tangential," Johnson said.

Of course, a seniority dispute between pilots from the former US Airways, known as "the east," and America West Airlines, overhangs negotiations. The carriers merged in 2005, but the pilot groups work under separate contracts, both with wages and benefits at the low end of the major carrier wage scale. The two groups long ago turned the matter over to the courts, where resolution has not been speedy.

Meanwhile, US Airways posted the highest third-quarter profit in its history and saw its shares rise 106% in 2010. This month, shares are up about 2%.

Cleary contends the carrier is stalling in contract talks because, as CEO Doug Parker has acknowledged, US Airways has a labor cost advantage to the three other legacy carriers.

In particular, Cleary said, US Airways was stalling in June when it filed a case in federal court in Phoenix, seeking a ruling on the seniority issue.

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