Aviation

Alaska pilots authorize future strike if talks and mediation fail

Alaska Airlines pilots voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at some future date if the current negotiations with management and federal mediation efforts fail.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said Wednesday that nearly 96% of its members cast mail-in votes and that 99% of those authorized the union’s leaders to call a strike if necessary and when permitted after a prolonged process managed by the National Mediation Board.

Following an informational picket in April by 1,500 off-duty pilots, the almost unanimous resolve indicated by the vote result will increase pressure on Alaska Air management to come to a settlement on the contract.

In a memo to the pilots, Capt. Will McQuillen, council chairperson of ALPA’s Alaska unit, said the vote provides the union negotiators “an important tool to help achieve your goals.”

He said it also sends “a clear message that you are unwilling to fall further behind your peers” at other major airlines.

The union has been stalled for years trying to negotiate a contract that addresses the union’s key concerns: work rules, scheduling flexibility and career security.

“Now is the time for management to respond and engage constructively at the bargaining table,” McQuillen said in a statement.

After a management request, the pilots’ union and company officials are meeting again this week. The union told its members Wednesday that it will report to them Friday on the outcome of those talks.

A strike cannot happen soon.

Federal legislation governing national transportation workers mandates that before they can strike, the mediation board must decide that additional mediation efforts would not be productive and offer the parties an opportunity to resolve the contract through arbitration.

Getting to that point could take months. And if either side declines the arbitration, a further 30-day “cooling off” period is required before strike action.

The heavy spate of Alaska Airlines flight cancellations over the past two months were not due to any labor action by the pilots, but by a shortage of pilots to fly the schedule.

Alaska’s management misjudged how many newly hired pilots would graduate from its training school in April and May. The airline cut its schedule in response and said the situation should substantially improve in June.

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