US Airways Union, Seeking Equal Pay With American, Awaits Strike Ruling

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- Officials from US Airways and its largest union met with the National Mediation Board on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the two groups went home with vastly different interpretations of what the board might do next.

"Based on the meetings, we expect the NMB to schedule additional sessions to continue our discussions," said US Airways spokesman Bill McGlashen.

But Joe Tiberi, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists, said the union "didn't receive any indication from the board that any meetings would be scheduled. We are not aware of any future meetings." An NMB spokesman declined, as usual, to comment.

At US Airways, the IAM represents about 5,800 fleet service workers and 3,500 mechanics. Both groups work under contracts that became amendable 26 months ago on Jan. 2, 2012. At American (AAL), the Transport Workers Union represents fleet service workers and mechanics, with a combined total of about 22,000. 

The IAM's position is that its members at US Airways should receive pay equal to what TWU members get for doing the same jobs at  American. US Airways contends the total value of the compensation packages is equal at the two carriers, even if pay rates alone are not. The two carriers merged on Dec. 9.

The IAM has asked the NMB for a finding that the talks have reached an impasse, which would trigger a 30-day cooling off period, after which the union would be free to strike. "We've met with the board and US Airways several times since November," Tiberi said. "The IAM and the carrier have not been able to agree -- that's why we're at the board. The negotiations aren't going anywhere."

American/US Airways management signed a contract with the TWU before American emerged from bankruptcy and entered into a merger. It argues that it wants to move ahead to negotiate contracts that would cover all of the mechanics and all of the fleet service workers at the combined airline, so there is no need to negotiate interim contracts with US Airways employees.

On Tuesday, TWU President Harry Lombardo declared that the IAM has TWU's support in its effort to be released by the NMB. "This is supposed to be the new and better American," Lombardo said, in a prepared statement.

"Management has said they want to have better labor relations than existed at either US Airways or the old American," Lombardo said. "Yet, the airline's leadership has locked mechanics and other ground workers represented by IAM into a second-class status where they get lower pay and fewer benefits than workers represented by TWU for the same work at the same airline."


The two unions, both members of the AFL-CIO, have signed an agreement saying that once the merger is completed they will jointly represent workers at the two carriers. Under the agreement, American and US Airways cannot secure single-carrier status from the NMB until both unions agree to request it.

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.

IAM members are among the few U.S. workers who continue to participate in a defined benefit pension plan, which entitles them to guaranteed benefits after they retire. However, in terms of cost to the company, 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.

To contact this writer, click here.

Follow @tedreednc

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