US Airways faces class action lawsuit from America West pilots

By Sarah Fenske

Last week, I told you about the war about between pilots at the old America West and the old US Airways. Even though the airlines merged three years ago, the two groups of pilots are still operating under different contracts -- and are facing off on the terms of a new one with definite rancor. As my story details, the East Coast-based US Airways pilots (or "East") have accused their Tempe-based counterparts ("West") of everything from hanging nooses in the cockpit to making thousands of prank calls to running a criminal conspiracy. (!)

When I wrote my story, the West pilots were on defense, fending off a RICO suit in federal court. (Though the judge tossed the suit against them, the East pilots were vowing to appeal.) But now they're on the attack. This week, the West pilots filed a class action lawsuit in district court -- charging not only that the East-dominated union has breached its duty of fair representation, but also that US Airways breached the pilots' collective bargaining agreement by failing to negotiate in good faith.

There's a lot of complicated legal arguments going on here, but the gist appears to be this: When America West and US Airways merged, the two groups of pilots and the newly formed company agreed to a transition process. That process eventually led the two pilot groups to binding arbitration to hash out issues of seniority -- but when the East pilots didn't like the arbitration results, they walked away and instead formed a new union.

That new union, the West pilots argue, has done little to represent its interests. And the company has made matters worse, the suit says, by letting the East pilots throw out the arbitration award that all three groups had agreed to.

As a result, the suit says, West pilots are unfairly losing their jobs. Already, the active roster of East pilots is growing; the West is not. And, the suit says, 57 West pilots will be furloughed, or laid off, on October 1. Another 54 pilots will follow in November.

The West pilots are seeking an injunction to stop the furloughs and force both the company and the union to accept the arbitrators' award.

I left a message for the lawyer on the case, Marty Harper of Shughart Thomson & Kilroy, and I'll update this post when I hear back.