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US Airways pilots sue over seniority in merger

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Scott Olson - Getty Images
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 09: An American Airlines jet with the company's new tail logo sits at a gate at O'Hare Airport on December 9, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. American Airlines announced today that it had completed a merger deal with US Airways. The deal will make American Airlines the world's largest airline, flying about 6,700 flights per day. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Charlotte-based union representing US Airways pilots has sued American Airlines, US Airways and the union representing American’s pilots over how pilot seniority should be determined after the carriers’ recent merger.

The US Airline Pilots Association filed its lawsuit in federal court late last week. This is the second seniority dispute stemming from a merger involving US Airways’ pilots. Pilots could not agree on a combined seniority list after the 2005 merger with America West, leading to a bitter dispute and years of lawsuits that were not resolved.

The dispute between the pilot groups highlights one of the new American’s major challenges: integrating its more than 100,000 employees and their respective unions into a single workforce.

In the most recent lawsuit, USAPA said the parties could not agree on a process to determine the seniority integration of the two pilot groups and that the issue should be determined by a federal arbiter.

“USAPA seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in the parties’ dispute concerning the integration of seniority lists between the pilots of American and the pilots of US Airways under the McCaskill-Bond Amendment,” the lawsuit said.

McCaskill-Bond is a 2007 federal law passed in response to how American’s union integrated the former TWA pilots and flight attendants. In that merger, the TWA employees were placed toward the bottom of the seniority lists and were subsequently furloughed during an economic downturn. Under McCaskill-Bond, the merged airlines must have a “fair and equitable” seniority list integration, and the parties must submit to a neutral arbitrator if an agreement can’t be reached.

Seniority plays a major role in determining which routes and planes pilots fly, and thus how much money they make. Both USAPA and the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s pilots, supported the carriers’ December merger because they were promised higher pay and more secure careers.

According to the lawsuit, the APA and the two airlines filed grievances with the National Mediation Board in late February, saying that McCaskill-Bond did not apply to their dispute.

“The defendants have conclusively asserted a position that they are not obligated to comply with Section 13(a) in resolving the seniority list integration dispute,” the suit said.

American declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Other labor groups have had more success combining. After an initial dispute over who would represent them at the merged carrier, the flight attendant unions representing US Airways and American employees agreed last week on how to combine and negotiate a joint contract. Staff writer Ely Portillo and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed.

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