US Airways Case Now Up to Judge

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- A federal judge is deciding whether US Airways's ( LCC) pilots union committed an illegal job action by staging an ongoing safety slowdown, following a day and a half of testimony that ended Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Conrad is deciding whether the U.S. Airline Pilots Association violated the Railway Labor Act, which prohibits job actions until parties reach the very end of the contract negotiating process. The airline sued the U.S. Airline Pilot Association in July, alleging that a safety slowdown a was in fact a job action.
US Airways

As the case ended early Monday afternoon. Conrad said he would "take it under advisement at this time" and "get out a decision as soon as I can." He said both sides had presented their cases well.

A single piece of evidence illustrates the key issue which the judge must decide. Airline officials produced plastic bag tags that read "I'm on board, safety first" on one side and "I've had enough, I'm ready to strike" on the other. But the airline could not definitively establish any connection between the bag tags and the union.

The principal witnesses Monday were Tom Kubik, head of the USAPA safety committee, and union president Mike Cleary. They were cross-examined by Robert Siegel, who represented the airline.

Kubik, a 34-year pilot who was on the stand for an hour and a half, spoke about a safety culture survey conducted by the pilots union in 2010. Based on the survey, the safety committee issued recommendations to the pilots advising that they shut the cockpit door to avoid distractions during pre-flight checks, resist schedulers' requests to fly when they feel fatigued and take other steps to assure safety.

In regards to fatigue, Kubik's note to pilots instructed that if fatigued, "it becomes your responsibility to delay ensuring flight until you feel rested or inform the company they have to find another pilot," Siegel said.

"We have a safety culture in need of intervention," Kubik said. "Our job is to provide advice from time to time; our primary and only concern is the safety of the airplane." He acknowledged that he encouraged pilots to deviate from standard operating procedure in the interest of safety.

Siegel said the survey measured pilot attitudes, not safety metrics, and added that reviews by the airline industry, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airline itself indicate the airline's safety practices are exemplary.

Although the airline introduced emails urging a safety slowdown, it could not prove the emails were known to or sanctioned by the union. Cleary said he had sent a letter to pilots on Aug. 17, urging that they not cause delay. He said he disapproved of various communications, one from the union strike preparation committee, that encouraged a slowdown, which the airline alleges began around May 1.

Asked whether the safety slowdown was connected to contract talks, Cleary responded: "It's not connected in any way." He said the union's safety committee "stays away from the political issues of the union."

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

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