But the biggest difference between the two airlines was workforce. The US Airways guys are, generally, much older. Robert W. Mann, an airline analyst and consultant, says that endless financial problems, particularly those following 9/11, led to 1,691 of its 5,000 pilots being "furloughed." That's airline-speak for laid off, yet still on the company's roster, in case the situation were to improve.

At the time of the merger with America West, US Airways hadn't hired a new pilot in 17 years. And, virtually every US Airways pilot who'd been hired since 1987 was stuck on furlough, Mann says. Most had been on the list long enough to find other jobs. Some had landed jobs at JetBlue — or even America West.

America West was growing. Since its inception in the 1980s, it had grown to 1,894 pilots. None were on furlough at the time of the merger.

Jamie Peachey
David Braid was accused of extortion after doing nothing more than posting a comment online.
Jamie Peachey
David Braid was accused of extortion after doing nothing more than posting a comment online.

Because the airline was still relatively young, few America West pilots could match the US Airways pilots when it came to years of service. In fact, if you drew up a combined seniority list, based strictly on original date of hire, 900 US Airways pilots would predate America West's oldest veteran.

That's been the epicenter of the new airline's post-merger drama. The mounting anger between the two groups of pilots, the RICO suit, even the allegations of dog feces in the mail stem from controversy over the seniority list.

But while the arguments have become petty, the issues are not.

At an airline, everything depends on seniority. Pilots work as a "first officer" for years just to earn captain status — which comes with not only the right to command your own plane but a big pay raise. And with a limited number of jets in the fleet, there's room for only so many captains. (Not to mention, for a pilot, a good schedule is paramount — and the more seniority you have, the better your options.)

If all the furloughed US Airways pilots were allowed to return to active duty as captains, they'd bump the younger captains at America West back down to first officer. If more furloughs were needed, too, the America West guys would be on the chopping block.

The America West pilots didn't think it was fair. Why should they suddenly be in a precarious place, just because their company had absorbed a troubled competitor?

"Everybody saw this as a problem," confirms CJ Szmal, an America West pilot and, at the time of the merger, a union officer. "It's nuclear fusion, it's mushroom cloud stuff. It's the most volatile thing in the world — pilot seniority."

The airline did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.

The CEOs of the two airlines agreed to become one in September 2005. They kept the US Airways name, the old America West headquarters in Tempe, and America West CEO Doug Parker as their new boss.

After that, it was left to the union chapters representing the East pilots (the older, partially furloughed guys) and the West pilots (the younger, America West ones) to merge into a single unit with a new, combined seniority list. Only after that could they begin negotiating a new contract.

Three years later, they haven't begun to talk about a contract. Seniority has been too great a minefield.

The West guys argue that it can't simply be a matter of date-of-hire: If so, a thousand of them would end up junior to guys who hadn't been working in the industry for years. But the East guys argue that it has to be — and can only be — date-of-hire.

The two pilots groups have been so far apart on the issue that they hired a mediator to help them talk then serve as an impartial arbiter when mediation failed. George Nicolau, who's worked for both the airline industry and Major League Baseball, was suggested by the East pilots. When the West pilots acquiesced, both sides agreed that his verdict would be final and binding.

For 18 days, Nicolau listened to testimony from both sets of pilots. It soon became clear, West pilots say, that the East-based pilots were unwilling to negotiate. It was date-of-hire or nothing.

Mann, who assisted the West pilots during previous merger talks and during the seniority negotiations, was stunned by the East pilots' attitude. "I've done a lot of these," he says. "And this was just the most extreme intransigence I've ever seen."

In May 2007, Nicolau issued his decree on how seniority should be handled. Suffice it to say, it wasn't based strictly on date-of-hire; he'd crafted a compromise that weighed a host of factors.

That should have been it; the two parties had agreed at the beginning that the Nicolau award was to be binding, final, and all those words that mean it can't be challenged or changed or compromised.

The East pilots, though, had other plans.

Screw the "binding" bit. Surely, it applied only to the union that had agreed to arbitration.

What if they were to start a new union? Then, surely, Nicolau wouldn't count.

Then they could start from scratch.


In early 2008, the pilots at US Airways began to campaign for the creation of a new union.

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19 comments
cja53
cja53

in parkers own words, the merger had to happen, am west didnt buy anything, all the money was raised by third parties, the government held warrentees on 300 million dollars of am west stock from debt owed,parker was told to piggy back off usairways BR AND PAY OFF THE DEBTS OF BOTH CARRIERS. AM WEST WAS TO SMALL TO SURVIVE ON ITS OWN AFTER A FAILED BID TO BUY ATA SLOTS IN MIDWAY, the merger saved 2 airlines9 AFTER MERGER FOR THE FIRST 2 YEARS THE WEST SIDE LOST MONEY 6 OF EIGHT QUARTERS THE EAST MADE ALL THE MONEY AS THE EARNINGS WERE NOT REPORTED TOGETHER

Ronald Davis
Ronald Davis

Being in the aviation industry, though not for an airline, I have great respect for the work airline pilots do each & every day. Often routine, sometimes not, incredible stamina and skill is required that deep experience improves upon. That said, US Airways and America West have, for years, been amongst the weakest of our nation's airlines. Blame, if need be, goes primarily to deregulation- anything goes, so America West was an upstart by a shady group of characters- that like Southwest has been more successful at, nibbled around the edges of the majors- US Air was a conglomeration of regional carriers, some successful, others not- but following each acquisition, put together very poorly and in the end, just a hodgepodge of struggling regional airlines which probably wouldn't have survived on their own. Based on history, US Airways pilots are fantasizing to think that they can dictate terms completely to their liking, especially since they were financially, the weaker of the two merged companies, especially since they agreed to binding arbitration and now don't think they need to be bound, by creating a shell union- fantasizing and selfish to think that the America West pilots shouldn't be given some credit based upon their positions, experience and contributions they made to the former company. After all, no other airline wanted anything to do with US Airways, & it will be surprising, even after the addition of America West, if the combined company isn't liquidated within a year or two. After all, in an industry renowned for weak corporate management, the new company has the weakest of them all- old, run-down aircraft, weak hubs, insignificant international routes, bad financials, an angry workforce, & worse, a CEO with a drinking issue that is in way over his head. They only made it through the fuel price crisis this summer by a last-minute infusion of capital that is no longer an option- so in the end, this entire squabble could be a mute issue- they all might be looking for work before long. Too bad, and again, so unnecessary- airline deregulation has been a complete disaster.

Margaret Nahmias
Margaret Nahmias

ROFOLOL! I was laughing so hard when I first read this article Thanks Ms Fenske for talking about the other side . Quit blame shifting, USAPA. You guys are the only reason the merger cannot get done. All of the other groups have contracts with the exception of the flight attendants and they are itching for one too. You are hurting not only your company's reputation with your ridiculous attempts at gaining leverage, but hurting your fellow pilots most of whom have nothing to with this . One reaps what one sows. Therefore Mr. Gentile don't be surprised that the West pilots reacted the way they did. These are plain old vengeful feelings, not extortion or even slander. In fact you slandered the company with false safety accusations. You guys have no plan, no experience and so far no contract to show for the mess you have created. Thank you guys especially when US Airways is becoming respectable. You're lucky Doug Parker has the patience of a saint. I'd be seething and ready to jam Nicolau down your throats by now .

turdblossom
turdblossom

It isn't the union's fault. It really isn't the pilots fault. It is the poor management of Doug Parker whose main mission was to suck the cash out of USA and be sure he had the lowest cost airline. Of course, when you crap on your employees twice a month in the form of slave wages, a poor management team can leverage every asset they own to the max, line management pockets, and have employee turmoil.. As long as the pilots are fighting amongst themselves, Parker and company are free to do what they want. And they are doing everything but trying to build an airline.

KPR
KPR

That's really quite funny. A Union basing a lawsuit on RICO statutes. I'll bet one could not find a group as familiar with the intricacies of RICO than those lawyers on the payroll of any US union.

tom
tom

Divide and conquer, indeed. Management is laughing at you clowns. ALL of you.

Charles
Charles

Rogelio....you wouldn't last three minutes in a sim. I'd love to put you in the left seat handflying a single engine approach on standby electrical power to a snow covered runway, minimal visibility, no autopilot, no magic computers. The outcome determined by skill, judgement and years of experience.

The Truth
The Truth

What is laughably distorted to me Mr. Menear is your attitude towards your fellow pilots at the new US Airways when you wrote a letter to USAPA that was posted on their website that contained the following quote:

"God it pisses me off that we had to save the West pilots jobs"

Also if you read the article then you would see that Mr. Gentile at USAPA was quoted.

ken
ken

It sounds as if the America West Union should have been more on the ball and defended what was about to happen to them. It seems that this could have been easily predicted given USAirs reputation. The America West pilots need to somehow twist Mr. Parkers arm so that he has motivation to change this situation. Being nice doesn't seem to be working.

Mike S
Mike S

I'm glad this story has been publicised in detail. While not wanting to take sides I will say that once you have agreed to arbitration then you must then accept the arbitrators ruling...end of story. That said, I cant see not letting either side ride my jumpseat. Jumpseat access is at Captain's discretion and the reasons one might deny that access have nothing to do with internal company disputes. I am both an ALPA member and at times a commuting pilot who very much appreciates the accomodation and professionalism shown to me by each of these groups whenever I am on board wheter in the cabin or cockpit.

James P
James P

Sounds like the USAir pilots should be fired for not taking the arbitration that they agreed to.

Can you really trust anything they say?Can the company trust anything that this new union says?

miguel
miguel

rogelio-

let me get this straight, you are willing to be the first in a group of passenger to board a commercial flight that will take off, fly, and land using automation.....best of luck it there is a crisis.

BTW RICO was a Robert Kennedy 1950's tack to get at the mob, not tax paying citizens!!

Frontier608
Frontier608

Let me see if I have this straight, US pilots agree to binding arbitration and when the arbitrators decision isn't to their liking they try for a 'Do over' by replacing the collective bargaining agent?

Wow, just wow.

I suppose in professional sports when an athlete goes to binding arbitration on salary if they don't like the decision they too can replace their agent and get a 'Do over' too?

I'd like to see what would happen to Airways when they try and fire the former America West pilots En Masse for non payment of dues.Maybe the above poster was right, maybe Airways should have shut down three years ago.

Who knows, maybe the company is worth more in pieces...something to think about.

Sold off in pieces with none of the Airways pilots or equipment.

SidelineObserver
SidelineObserver

Seems to me the perpetually furloughed USAir pilots want the America West pilots to make their careers whole.

USAir had pilots on furlough during the glory days of the late 90's when airlines were literally printing money.If you were furloughed from USAir at that time, and stuck around expecting recall, blame no one but yourself for bad career decisions.

Before this 'merger' I couldn't read any industry publication that wasn't speculating about the impending demise of USAir.And make no mistake, coming out of the summer of '05 NO ONE in the industry expected them to see 06.

The USAir people have this selective amnesia as to what the state of their airline was in '05.

Pilots in the industry blame them from three paycuts and concession after concession.USAir pilots have lowered the bar on every occasion when given the opportunity.

I fail to see why the America West pilots should sacrifice their careers to make the stagnated careers of the USAir pilots whole.

There is overcapacity in the industry, perhaps if USAir had failed in '05 as they should have this industry wouldn't be as much of a basket case as it is these days.

But they didn't fail, they managed to convince the investors that this would be a great idea,much to the detriment of the rest of the industry.

We lost Pan Am and Eastern during the last industry downturn, why not USAir? What is so special about this carrier that merits its continued existence?

Nothing.Hopefully they'll be the next airline to shut down and fly west.

Rogelio Martinezo
Rogelio Martinezo

Boo Hoo.A bunch of overpaid bus drivers whining about pay. Cry me a river. Those planes can take off, fly, and land by themselves. The only thing pilots are there for are to make out with the stews.Have fun with your unions, Captains Dunsel.

Elwood Menear
Elwood Menear

I only hope that the actual hatchet used by authoress, Sarah Fenske (Sept.04) in her laughably distorted "news article" on the US Airways pilot integration mess, is not the one used by George Washington. George's hatchet is forever associated with truth-telling, and there was very little truth to be found in Ms. Fenske's writing, in this case.

If your newspaper would like to have a balanced view, perhaps contacting Arnie Gentile, at USAPA might be a good start?

Danny Holycross
Danny Holycross

Im sorry HP was one of THE WORST AIRLINES TO WORK FOR! The only work group that was cared for at HP was the pilots. The FA's and ground staff were treated like red headed step children. No matter how "traditional" or "screwed up" US Airways was, atleast there FA's and ground staff previous to 9/11 were treated with respect, and no pilot could have gotten away with the treatment the HP pilots give to the current HP FA's. Do I feel Mr. Baraid should be in trouble, absolutely not. But what people are forgetting is that the actual employees from EITHER airline wanted this, this was all managements decision. Mr. Parker and Mr. Kirby could care less about the two groups arguing.

Eric Auxier
Eric Auxier

As one of the accused pilots, it is refreshing to finally have our story told. A few facts to add to the story:

1) Financially healthy America West bought (not merged with) the bankrupt USAirways, which industry experts said was weeks away from closing its doors for good.2) Usapa lawyers tried to coerce the accused pilots to sign a "confession" which would have FALSELY implicated other pilots and their protective coalition (AWAPPA) of Rico conspiracy laws, to eliminate its defense of the legally binding Nicolau seniority award3) The Nicolau Seniority award included 517 East pilots on top of all West pilots, with a 2/1 East/West ratio after that. Hardly a "windfall for the West."4) Instead of accepting the award, joining forces and fighting for an industry leading contract, the East decided to form a divisive union which, ultimately, threatens the very survival of USAirways.

 
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