Despite a Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals rulings that said the US Airline Pilots Association did not violate its Duty of Fair Representation (DFR), the pilots of the merged US Airways and America West are no closer to resolving their seniority issues. While seeming to put the matter to rest, it is likely that the America West pilots – known as “the west” pilots – will appeal the ruling of the three-member court and ask for a decision by the full 11-member court.
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USAPA President Mike Cleary in a note to members cautioned about the fact that the ruling may put them in an emotional state, thus making them unfit to fly. “No matter which side of the case you are on, today is an emotional day,” he said. “I ask that all of our pilots treat today and the days that follow as you would any other. Please be certain that you are physically and emotionally prepared to pilot an aircraft before you head to work. And most importantly, focus absolutely on the task at hand when you are on the flight deck - do not allow yourself to become distracted by current events.”
The court reversed a 2009 decision by a lower court that found the union did violate its duty but paves the way for bargaining with US Airways management for the terms of its seniority integration. The lower court had issued an injunction requiring USAPA to bargain for seniority integration based on a previous unions bargaining proposal known as the Nicolau Award, which resulted from an arbitration conducted by the Air Line Pilots Association and the US Airways pilots’ bargaining agent. The award was seen as favoring American West pilots.
The decision, thus, puts additional pressure on USAPA to negotiate a contract that is far to all pilots at the merged company or it could face additional DFR lawsuits.
“This decision is a key milestone in what has been a long and arduous journey for all of us,” said Cleary. “It offers us all a unique opportunity to move forward together, as a united group, to advocate for our best interests. With the company’s recent demonstration of renewed motivation and cooperation, coupled with a resolution of this case, many of the significant impediments we faced in gaining a contract have been removed. We now look forward to working together towards an improved, industry-standard contract for all US Airways pilots.”
The original suit was brought in September 2008, when a group of six former America West pilots brought suit against USAPA claiming that USAPA’s failure to implement the Nicolau award violated its duty of fair representation. The lawsuit, Addington v. US Airline Pilots Association, was accompanied by another lawsuit brought in state court that has since been dismissed.
The Ninth Circuit, in its latest ruling, argued that the Addington lawsuit was not ready for argument since no contract had been negotiated. Since no contract had been negotiated, said the court, there is no way to determine if the west pilots have been harmed, leaving the lower court without jurisdiction. As a result of today’s ruling, US District Judge Neil Wake is ordered to dismiss the action against USAPA. This also means that the injunction and remaining damages phase of the case are now moot and USAPA can begin the collective bargaining process on behalf of all US Airways pilots.