US Airways, pilots agree to end lawsuit

Nearly six months after US Airways sued its Charlotte-based pilots union over a work slowdown, the two sides have reached a settlement, resolving one facet of the company's multiyear labor struggles.

Tempe, Ariz.,-based US Airways and the U.S. Airline Pilots Association have agreed to halt the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Charlotte. According to documents filed Friday, both sides have asked that an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Bob Conrad, ordering the union to stop the work slowdown, be made permanent.

The case will be recorded as a ruling in favor of US Airways, and both sides will pay their own attorneys' fees.

On Tuesday, both sides said they hope to put the case behind them and get back to negotiating a contract.

"This, in effect, concludes the legal proceedings ... saving the union a great deal of money and allowing us to concentrate our efforts and resources on moving forward to get a contract for our pilots," said USAPA spokesman Capt. James Ray. He maintained the union was not in violation of the law.

US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said the agreement would hopefully allow the pilots to focus on resolving internal union disputes and a unified contract with the company.

The airline first sued the pilots union in July. The company claimed that the pilots were intentionally slowing the airline's operations through tactics such as slow-taxiing and unnecessary maintenance write-ups in order to pressure the airline in labor contract negotiations.

After the lawsuit was filed, the pilots shot back, charging that the airline was running an unsafe operation and forcing pilots to take off in potentially dangerous planes instead of performing appropriate maintenance. The union said any increase in delays was caused by factors such as runway construction at Charlotte and a severe rash of summer storms.

The lawsuit featured a string of unusual accusations. US Airways claimed pilots were being pressured into participating in the slowdown by anonymous emails. Pilots who didn't participate were allegedly given "awards" to shame them, such as the "Pink Panties Award."

US Airways also said stickers reading "+16" were found on airplanes and clipboards. They were meant to be a covert signal telling pilots to arrive late to the gate, the airline said. Government statistics count a plane as on time if it is within 15 minutes of schedule.

The pilots union denied participating in the slowdown, or anonymous emails.

Despite the resolution of the lawsuit in Charlotte, a separate lawsuit in federal court in New York is pending. The pilots union has sued US Airways there, claiming that the airline is negotiating in bad faith and intentionally dragging out the contract process.

The company's contentious pilot contract negotiations remain in federal mediation, with the two groups meeting for one week each month. The airline and the pilots have been struggling to reach a contract since 2005, when then-bankrupt US Airways merged with America West.

US Airways operates about 90 percent of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport's daily flights.

The alleged slowdown hit Charlotte/Douglas particularly hard, US Airways said, with an increase in delayed and canceled flights, as well as missed connections for passengers and baggage.

Under the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline labor negotiations, workers are barred from strikes, slowdowns or other similar actions until after negotiations are declared to be at an impasse and both sides are released by negotiators.

After a hearing in Charlotte, Judge Conrad sided with the airline, ruling in September that the pilots were engaged in illegal work slowdown. The judge ordered them to stop in a preliminary injunction, which will now be made permanent.

On Tuesday, USAPA also said that the order will not affect the pilots' ability to make sure their planes are safe and request proper maintenance.

"The court has made it clear that the injunction does not interfere in any way with the pilot's duty to ensure the safety of passengers and aircraft," said Ray. Observer staff researcher Maria David contributed.