A group of American Airlines Group pilots is preparing a push to give up their 53-year-old independent union and join the larger Air Line Pilots Association, after peers at rival carriers secured tentative contracts with better pay and benefits.
Resolutions calling for creation of an Allied Pilots Association committee to evaluate the issue will be introduced in at least two pilot bases over the next two weeks, according to interviews with aviators supporting the change. The proposals could go to the union’s board for approval, with the goal of merging APA into ALPA, they said.
Frustration has been building over the past two months among APA members after pilots at Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines agreed to tentative terms that would boost their compensation above that in a contract American aviators reached last year.
If Delta pilots approve their accord, a provision in United Continental’s labor agreement would increase pay at that carrier to the same rates. United Parcel Service and FedEx aviators also have gained new contracts since last year.
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“There’s a well-founded belief that APA, as an independent union, underperforms,” said Mitch Vasin, an American first officer based in Phoenix. “It can’t compete with a national union with the resources and political connections and the size of ALPA. This has been at a simmer, and when the Delta pilots reached their tentative agreement, it turned the heat up a lot.”
Supporters of the merger also say APA’s structure, with a 22-member board, makes reaching consensus difficult and slows decisions. While ALPA represents Delta, United and FedEx pilots, Southwest and UPS have independent unions similar to APA.
“Our pilot compensation will soon likely rank a distant fifth or sixth in the industry,” APA President Dan Carey told the union board last week. “As the largest pilot group in the world, employed by the most profitable airline in the world, that’s simply unacceptable.”
Carey told members “it’s time to have the debate” about closer ties to the larger union, although he didn’t call for a combination. The two unions have worked together in the past, including APA’s use of an ALPA expert in contract negotiations.
APA represents 15,000 pilots from four carriers that have merged into one since 2001: American, US Airways, America West and TWA. ALPA has more than 54,000 pilots at 31 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. APA split off from ALPA in 1963, and “pretty much everyone has forgotten any reason why,” said Mitch Groder, an American first officer based in Philadelphia.