Arnie Gentilly, a 24-year veteran of US Airways, says that the pilots didn't decide to head out on their own just because they hated the Nicolau award. They'd been frustrated for years, he says. After the company filed for bankruptcy in 2003, the pilots had agreed to an awful contract just to stay in business, with a 53 percent pay cut and incredibly onerous working hours.

Now they were being asked to play a junior role to pilots with less experience?

"The Nicolau award was the straw that broke the camel's back," Gentilly admits.

Ron Gabaldon rejects the idea that pilots from the former America West have less experience.
Jamie Peachey
Ron Gabaldon rejects the idea that pilots from the former America West have less experience.
Attorney Patrick Van Zanen says many of the claims against his clients are "ridiculous."
Jamie Peachey
Attorney Patrick Van Zanen says many of the claims against his clients are "ridiculous."

The West guys say they, too, had their complaints about Nicolau's award. "Nobody on our side was happy with it," says Braid, a pilot who came up through the America West system. "They're calling him 'St. Nick,' like he gave us a gift." Not so, Braid says — it's more that the West pilots understood the process had been fair, that no one was going to get everything they wanted. Unlike the East guys, they'd come in knowing that they'd have to compromise.

Plus, there was the principle of the thing.

"We knew whatever [Nicolau] came out with, we had to live with," says fellow West pilot Szmal. "We took that chance."

Unfortunately for the West pilots, though, they'd be forced to join the new union whether they wanted to or not.

In the airline industry, unions are optional. It's called an "agency shop." If you want to work as a pilot, you are required to pay union dues.

And because there were twice as many East pilots, as long as they stood united, they didn't really need a single West pilot's support to break away — and require the West guys to pay dues to an organization that had been formed, in essence, to screw them over.

The East guys selling the new union made just one trip to Phoenix to discuss their plans — an effort they quickly abandoned under intense questioning from West pilots. The meeting is enshrined in a series of 15 YouTube videos, titled "Can't Take the Heat." (Some of the videos have been viewed more than 4,000 times.)

Already, West pilots were convinced they were getting the shaft. Several made it clear that they would not pay dues, or participate, in the new union.

"I believe [forming a new union] is the quickest way to a new contract — and, eventually, unity," one of the East pilots told the assembled pilots.

"Never!" the West pilots cried. "No way!"

"Now," the East pilot continued, "Many of you have told us that you prefer anarchy, and you will not pay dues to us, and you'll undermine us."

"You're undermining ALPA," one West pilot angrily retorted.

"You're fundamentally undermining us!" another shouted.

Toward the end of the meeting, a West pilot asked what would happen if the West pilots refuse to pay dues to the new union. Sure, technically, they could get fired. But, the pilot asked, "Would you think that [US Airways CEO] Doug Parker would just fire 1,800 pilots? Would they lay us off?"

"They could," the would-be union leader replied.

The union organizers had originally planned to stay until 4 p.m., but the meeting grew so toxic, they left more than two hours early.

"What about a closing statement?" one West pilot called as they prepared to go. "Tell us why I need to vote for you."

"Are you guys going to walk out?" another West pilot shouted.

"Sorry, guys," the East pilot said.

"It's not four o'clock yet!" a West pilot shouted.

A few weeks later, U.S. Airlines Pilot Association, or USAPA, was voted in as the official representative of all US Airways pilots. The East pilots had won.

But that didn't mean the West guys were about to roll over.


You have to be careful while reading the new union's RICO suit against the West-based pilots. After all, this is a lawsuit that accuses a bunch of respected pilots of extortion — then offers absolutely no evidence to back up the claim.

What is clear from the suit, however, is that in the three months since USAPA took over as the bargaining agent for US Airways pilots, a tense situation has flared into open warfare, with plenty of bad blood on both sides.

The USAPA guys put up a toll-free line for pilots to get information from union leadership, at no cost. But the America West pilots knew that "no cost" to them could mean "big cost" to the start-up union.

According to the suit, the West pilots began flooding the line in hopes of bankrupting the "scab" union. In one month's time, the line received a whopping 13,986 calls. And it was pretty clear that guys weren't just calling to get information: One guy, a pilot in Dayton, made 393 calls in a one-week period. Another guy, based in Phoenix, rang up a staggering 1,481 calls over two weeks.

The West pilots openly bragged about their shenanigans.

"I took some advice from another thread and called their hotline," one pilot wrote on a West-controlled message board in April. "I did some research, and it costs them seven cents a minute. After 9 p.m., cell phone usage is free and I can run two lines at once, plus my home phone . . . Oh, yeah, and I passed some pay phones, dialed it, and left. So, just today, I probably cost them an easy $30 to $40. If we all do this . . . holy crap!"

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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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