United Continental Pilots Vote to Strike

By Paul Riegler on 17 July 2012
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A United 777 at Tokyo’s Narita Airport

Pilots at United Continental voted almost unanimously to approve a strike.   Almost 94% of the membership of the pilots union took part in the vote and 99% voted to withdraw their services if required.

The pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association union and a strike must also be authorized by federal mediators.

United and Continental merged in 2010 but the pilots, despite two years of negotiations, are not yet covered by a joint contract.  The National Mediation Board (NMB), a federal agency, has been mediating talks between the airline and the two branches of the ALPA that represent legacy Continental and legacy United pilots.

The NMB could conclude that further negotiation will not result in a new agreement and declare an impasse. This would put the parties into a 30-day cooling off period after which the pilots would be free to go on strike.

An impasse is a measure of last resort and the agency is unlikely to declare one if it believes that a strike would be disruptive to business and commerce.

Today’s strike vote was not unexpected by the airline and “is not uncommon at this point in negotiations,” United Continental said in a statement. “The vote results alone do not permit the union to take any action, as there are several other procedural steps required” before a strike could take place.

“The strength of this vote clearly indicates the level of frustration our pilots have with management’s disinterest in reaching a conclusion to negotiations,” said Capt. Jay Pierce, who serves as chairman of the Continental ALPA branch. “A strike is never the preferred path to reaching agreement, but our pilots have demonstrated that they realize it may be necessary.”

The pilots at the United ALPA unit have, over the past decade, made “several major sacrifices to help the airline survive,” said Capt. Jay Heppner, who chairs this group.  “Management has done absolutely nothing to restore those sacrifices.”

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