May 14, 2007

US Airways fliers feel effect of US Airways' labor woes

Some merger-related labor issues appear to be rising to the surface at US Airways and the airline's customers may be feeling the impact. In a story yesterday, The Arizona Republic writes that "last weekend, shortly after US Airways pilots learned where they rank on a long-awaited seniority list, the airline's on-time performance plunged."

The paper notes that half of US Airways flights were delayed that Sunday, adding that that sank the carrier's on-time performance to "levels not seen since its March meltdown -- but without the reservation-systems problems or winter weather to blame." Couple that with the recent seniority ruling, and the Republic wonders whether it was a "coincidence or concerted slowdown?"

US Airways officials tied the poor performance to full planes, adding that the company chose to hold flights to avoid stranding customers with late-arriving connections. "But," the Republic says, "dozens of pilots privately tell a different story. They say some former US Airways pilots on the East Coast -- frustrated that many now rank below less-tenured America West pilots -- didn't show up for work, did the minimum required or took their time on routine items." The paper notes that after the new seniority ruling came out, a Charlotte-based pilot wrote on a union message board: "Get ready because this is about to get real ugly."

Union officials say there is no organized work action, though the Republic notes that "there also are union campaigns suggesting employees do only their own job, as well as deliberate attempts by some employees to get management's attention by slowing down the operation or running up costs." The tension among pilots underscores what the Republic says is now "the most significant hurdle of (the company's) 20-month old America West-US Airways merger: combining its 36,000 employees into a single workforce."

Management still is working at bringing its labor groups -– including pilots, attendants, mechanics and baggage crews -– under a single contract, something that must be done before the airlines can be completely integrated. "Until then," the Republic writes, "the airlines are effectively separate, with their own planes and flight crews. That has fostered an 'Us vs. Them' attitude and prevented the airline from creating a united culture, so critical to the success of mergers. Rancor is steadily mounting, and the airline hasn't begun to tackle sticky issues such as pay."

By Ben Mutzabaugh

No comments: