Friday, September 05, 2008

Pilots' union files suit against Spirit Airlines

Spirit AirlinesYesterday, Spirit Airlines was sued by its pilots' union. The pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, claiming multiple violations of the Railway Labor Act, the law that governs labor relations in the airline industry.

According to an ALPA news release about the suit against Spirit Airlines, the legal filing alleges that the company has engaged in a pattern of unlawful behavior by:
  • negotiating in bad faith with ALPA
  • unilaterally imposing a series of changes in rates of pay, rules, and working conditions through bad-faith application of the contract
  • attempting to coerce and intimidate pilots by undermining their union
  • and seeking to circumvent the collective bargaining process as a whole
ALPA, which represents more than 500 Spirit pilots, says:
In May, Spirit Airlines announced furloughs of 30 percent of the active pilots; 45 on August 1 and 70 on September 1. Despite this reduction in staff, the company made no attempt to make a commensurate reduction in flights. Instead, the company has repeatedly violated the contract in an effort to compensate for its poor decision making and self-inflicted pilot shortage. By unilaterally changing and ignoring clear contractual rules and long-standing work practices, as well as commitments made in bargaining, the company has tried to run roughshod over the pilots, their contract, and the collective bargaining process.
"Enough is enough," said Capt. John Prater, president of ALPA. "Over the last few months, Spirit pilots have withstood every contract violation and every form of harassment that this management could throw at them. Since the company refuses to honor the contract, we are asking a court to force them to, and treat these pilots and our union with the respect we deserve."

Spirit Airlines management says that the recent changes to work rules other 'initiatives' were developed in response to unprecedented economic and airline industry conditions. In a statement to the press, Spirit Airlines President and CEO Ben Baldanza said:
"Each of the changes is permitted under the existing collective bargaining agreement. We understand that some of our pilots are unhappy about the changes but, in our view, the work rule adjustments are critically necessary in these challenging times for the well being of the company and our employees. Each issue is being negotiated in already scheduled arbitrations or in our ongoing collective bargaining under supervision of a Federal mediator.

"As everyone knows, the economics of our industry have changed dramatically, as the result of a doubling in fuel prices over the past year and the recession in the United States," added Baldanza. "Our decision to discontinue certain less efficient practices within the bounds of our existing agreement is just one part of a company-wide range of initiatives aimed at improving revenues and reducing costs. These changes help to ensure the company's continued ability to compete, grow, and protect our employees' jobs."
Spirit Airlines pilots disagree with Baldanza's view. They have been claiming for more than a year that the carrier has been violating the terms of their contract. More recently, Spirit Airlines management tried to blame its pilots for flight cancellations, while the pilots contend that the heart of the airline's problems are the service, planning, and staffing failures for which management alone is responsible.

"Spirit pilots are working harder than ever to meet the demands of this airline," said Capt. Sean Creed, chair of the Spirit unit of ALPA. "It’s unfortunate that the actions of a misguided management team have forced us to take this step to protect our profession, our contract, and our airline."