Biggest US Airways Union Seeks Strike for Equal Pay With American Airlines

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- US Airways' biggest union said it wants to be able to strike because its members are paid less than American (AAL) workers who do the same jobs, despite the two carriers' merger on Dec. 9.

The airline has said it wants to wait until mechanics and fleet service workers at US Airways and American have a joint contract before the work groups have the same wages and benefits. At US Airways, both groups are represented by the International Association of Machinists, while at American they are represented by the Transport Workers Union.

On Tuesday, the IAM will ask the National Mediation Board for a release from negotiations, which would trigger a 30-day countdown until the union would be free to strike. The IAM has been negotiating new contracts for the two groups since before their contracts became amendable 26 months ago on Jan. 2, 2012.

"We're close, but the big sticking point is that US Airways wants our members to accept less than they have already given to American employees for the same work," said IAM spokesman Joe Tiberi. "We will never agree to that.

"We want everybody to be on the same level," Tiberi said. "Then we can talk about a single contract for everybody, negotiating alongside the TWU as part of our alliance with them." For now, he said, the union and the airline have reached an impasse after a year and a half of mediated negotiations. If the NMB were to agree that the two sides are at impasse, they could release the parties.

The airline, which will also be represented at the meeting with the NMB, is expected to argue that the sides have not reached an impasse. 

Tiberi said union locals are involved in strike preparations. He said it is ironic that CEO Doug Parker declared a week ago at an investor conference that he is making improvements at American, where prior management was so hamstrung by conflicts with labor that its ability to manage the airline was reduced. "Doug Parker is talking about great labor relations when he has thousands of employees ready to go on strike," Tiberi said. "He's a hypocrite."

American became "an airline that couldn't really achieve its potential because the management-labor relations had gotten so bad," said Parker, CEO of American following a merger with US Airways, at a JPMorgan investor conference last week. "There is so much to do when you get everybody excited and working together than you can't do when they're not."

American labor spokesman Bill McGlashen declined to comment for this story. However, in a quarterly meeting with union leaders, which took place on Feb. 4, Parker said the company's goal is to get to single joint contracts and single union representation with all of its unions.

Flight attendants have agreed that the Association of Professional Flight Attendants will represent them, while the IAM and the TWU have agreed to joint representation. The pilots have agreed to merge into the Allied Pilots Association, but the timing is in dispute.

At US Airways, top scale mechanics make $71,323 annually, with no increases scheduled, according to the IAM. Top-scale mechanics at American earn $75,254 annually with an increase to $77,126 scheduled for September, the union said.

Top-scale US Airways fleet service workers are paid $42,785 annually. Top-scale American fleet service workers are paid $47,526 annually, with an increase to $48,526 scheduled for September.

Tiberi acknowledged that some of the benefits in the IAM contract are better, but said some benefits in the TWU contract are also better. For instance, TWU members were awarded stock in the new American, while IAM members do not hold any stock. Apart from wages, the benefits in the two contracts are "a wash," Tiberi said.

Even if the NMB were to release the parties, that does not mean the IAM will strike. A more likely outcome would be stepped-up negotiations that could lead to higher pay for IAM members. 

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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