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Continental Airlines Pilots File Lawsuit Against Union

Six former Continental Airlines pilots who now fly for United Airlines have filed a class-action lawsuit against their own union. The lawsuit claims that the Air Line Pilots Association,used a formula that unduly favored pilots from United Airlines when Continental merged with United in 2010 to form what was then the world’s largest airline. ( More...

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ADXbear 4
This should make for more happy customer service by flight crews.... First Eastern, then PanAm, USAIR, ATA, and the list keep growing.. Isn't it time to establish an national seniority list so every pilot can maintain a decent Base wage.... and can move from company to company like many professionals.

The American public does not understand or care that the perceived highly paid pilots doing what they love to do have a squawk with their airline. Just saying, its time that ALPA and other self interest organizations be banned as the primary representation since they never seem to make both sides happy..
PhotoFinish 1
I've thought that.

The collective bargaining agreements have severe increases that step up with seniority. At first, the increases could be borne with the increases in airline growth early in the industry growth cycle.

But eventually the insatiable desire for pay growth outgrew the ability of airlines to pay. So CBAs starting prividing higher pay for senior pilots at the expense of lower seniority (future) pilots.

These low-to-start but with much higher pay with years of seniority makes it difficult for pilots to easily move between airlines without a sever pay cut.

Most other professionals are paid based on their experience, and not based on seniority.

In many ways, CBAs have complicated pilots lives. Some may argue that these have gotten pilots better conditions that pilots would've gotten otherwise. But even benefits gotten from airlines past their ability to pay, by extorting employers with threats of walkouts, are later lost in rounds of bankruptcy.

Even the higher wages paid to more senior pilots have not only resulted in lower wages fir starting pilots, but have also pushed the airlines to embrace the regional airlines in order to reduce costs and be competitive with other airlines without these issues.

But like most professionals, pilot pay should more closely track their experience and abilities (based on which types flown and hours per type) and not just on years employed. Even worse years employed at only one airline.

It would be difficult to transition to such a system where pilots are paid more equitably, based on their own professional experience.

The unions and CBAs are fairly rigid in their treatment of wages. Pilots groups would not easily want to give up what they consider to be hard-fought gains.

Maybe in the future with increasing numbers of experienced ex-pats willing to return home, combined with pilot shortages may change starting pay offered to pilots, to reflect their experience.

The worst part of the CO pilots situation is that they're stuck. Despite all that was taken away, going to another airline means starting all over.

Can't tell you whether pilots would be willing to trade top pay for better conditions, like better starting pay and ability to more easily change between airlines if needed, without a severe drop in pay mid-career.

There are good arguments on both sides. But many pilots would've had much better professional and employment options without such a rigid system, not just the Continental pilots.

Some folks have long commutes after they've had to move for personal or family reasons. But changing airlines wasn't even an option because of these restrictive pay schemes.

It really is a shame for professionals to be treated like factory workers in the industrial age.
ken young 3
Labor unions.....BARF!
Ric Wernicke 3
There is never a merger of equals. United was the 800 lb parakeet in the room, and picked over Continental like the stars of "Storage Wars."

The Union, ALPA, did not want to cede territory, so they fudged the seniority calculations for their benefit so the greater number of pilots from the United side would feel the warm fuzzies toward retaining the ALPA.

The Courts will hopefully provide equitable relief for the shabby treatment former Continental pilots have received from those with a fiduciary duty to look after their interests.

The economic loss suffered by the Continental pilots cannot be replaced with the entire assets of the ALPA, so perhaps they should be shut down and allow a new entity to represent all pilots of the combined companies on an equal footing.
preacher1 1
You really think that Moak and crew are gonna lay down, roll over and give this up without a fight, especially with such a pro labor administration. He pretty much already has but Moak is coming to point where he is a UAL pilot or Union President.
mike SUT 1
Moak is a DAL pilot
preacher1 1
I'll take your word for it. Previous media articles stated he was UAL. It don't matter. He still needs to make a choice.
Michael Wendt 3
As a Continental (now United) pilot, these 6 pilots have wasted their personal money hiring lawyers. Unfortunately, they are also wasting my Union Dues ALPA will spend defending against this suit.

This suit will get nowhere because it was NOT ALPA who came up with the seniority formula but a panel of 3 independent arbitrators.

All 12,500 pilots had plenty of time to challenge the data the arbitrators used in their formula.

One comment here points to the bottom of the list being ALL Continental pilots. That is because Continental hired NEW pilots after the merger was announced in May, 2010. There is NO justification for putting those new hires above United pilots who already had seniority.

Depending on the numbers used to analyze the results, I actually moved up 3% in relative seniority on the new list. Others moved down. You need to read the arbitrators reasoning (which is not easy reading.)

Long ago, I heard that a seniority merger can only be considered 'fair' if everyone is EQUALLY pissed off. If anyone is happy, you did it wrong.
PhotoFinish 1
Thanks for the insiders perspective. It helps others understand the situation you and your colleagues had to live through.

I would imagine that the more senior CO guys would get a bit of a bump from whatever adjustment was made.

But the crux of the problem is that CO had fairly junior pilots flying really good gigs because the airline had been doing so well and growing so fast adding all kinds of great flights. Great for passengers and great for pilots.

United had the opposite. United had a pilot group that skewed toward much more senior pilots without as good a proportion of flights. United even had menu pilots on furlough, who were brought back and put ahead of many if not most of the CO pilots.

Just because some pilots did ok, doesn't mean other pilots got the shaft.

And I don't feel good about many CO pilots getting the shaft. That many United pilots got the shaft years ago because their airline was poorly managed doesn't make hsppened to the CO pilots fair treatment.

It wasnt only pilots hired after the merger announcement that got shafted. There were a lot of CO pilots at the bottom of that merged seniority list. Just based on the numbers, there must be many CO pilots who had been flying for years and had moved up the food chain into good trips, who must now take whatever leftovers exist after all ex-United pilots and many ex-CO pilots are done choosing what they want.

For many guys, this may mean less desirable flights, often from further away bases with longer commutes. For some it may even impact their earnings.

I got a thorough explanation from a very senior CO guy the day after the announcement. Even though his seniority meant that he would be ok. He had lived through all those CO mergers, and knew it was not going to be easy. He readily admitted that the least CO staff among his colleagues would get shafted for all the reasons, that turned out to be true in hindsight: more x-UA staff, more senior x-UA staff, less desirable x-UA routes. x-CO flight attendants had the further burden of being more expensive due to x-UA concessions over the years, including from the recent bankruptcy.

The best integration of seniority lists would've left everyone whole, without giving anyone an extra advantage (not even 3%) nor disadvantaged others.

Whatever adjustments to the lists should've left each pilot, no matter from which side, with the same chances of getting a particular trip as the day before. That would've left everyone whole. Any unhappiness about the results would've been from events that predated the merger and the integration. An extra unhappiness created from the integration is unjustified, no matter the reasons.

He and I expected x-CO to get more shafted than the pilots. In reality, the x-CO pilots were much worse off after integration than the x-CO flight attendants. We had expected the reverse.

The reality is that everybody threw the junior CO pilots under the bus. (or in this case, is it threw them under the plane?)
preacher1 2
To quote the words of the late Charley Rich and his song "Good Time Charley's got the Blues", SOME GOTTA WIN, SOME GOTTA LOSE. Ain't no merger gonna be 100% fair. To the one's that filed the suit, I'll say good luck. Had a retired PanAm driver tell me the other day that years ago when they bought National that he actually lost seniority spots even though they were the dominant carrier.
PhotoFinish 1
* Just because some pilots did ok, doesn't mean other pilots DIDN'T get the shaft.

Some did better than others. But many pilots got the shaft, just from the integration alone. This is as unfortunate, and it was entirely preventable.
Michael Wendt 2
You say this was entirely preventable but I'm sorry, you can't create a system that perfectly integrates two (or more) seniority lists.

ALPA has a fairly short, simple set of 'rules' for seniority merger. The first is that relative seniority from the original groups is maintained. In other words, the Continental pilots who were senior to me before remain senior in the same order, and the Continental pilots who were junior to me before remain junior in the same order. This was absolutely upheld.

Second, that jobs will be preserved. Since the New United continues to hire new pilots, this to was absolutely upheld.

Third, preserve career expectations, longevity, and status and category. This is where it gets complex.

What are "career expectations"? One aspect that applies to Continental/United is that Continental had no 747s when the merger was announced. The United pilots asked the arbitrators for a permanent 'fence' blocking Continental pilots from ever bidding into the 747.

Now to complicate things United had no 787s when the merger was announced. United had some on order but no deliveries before (I think) 2017. But the United pilots asked for immediate access to Continental's 787s.

So, the compromise the arbitrators came up with is a 5 year fence on both the 747 and 787. Also, both fences go away when the 25th 787 is delivered.

Is this 'fair'? I've heard arguments both ways.

We had Continental pilots hired in 2007 who were never laid off, working all the time before the merger. You also had United pilots hired in 2001 who were laid off most of that time. How do you integrate these groups 'fairly'?

What has been done in the past is to look at how many DAYS each pilot has worked. So, a United pilot hired in 2001 May or may not have worked more days than a Continental 2007 hire. Just remember to keep the Continental pilots in the same order while keeping the United pilots in the same order.

I won't try to argue that the Continental/United pilot seniority merger was completely fair. However, I will argue that it was not grossly unfair.
PhotoFinish 1
> "ALPA has a fairly short, simple set of 'rules' for seniority merger."

That's exactly why the integration turned out grossly unfair for some.

The integration of two complex systems could bit be governed a simple set of rules and treat everyone fairly.

The aim of the integration and the measure of its' fairness should be simple enough. Each pilot should have the same prospects after the integration as he it she had before.

The execution of such a simple concept would take a lot of effort and would not be simple at all.

Keeping boths sets of pilots in order within their subsets is very easy. They're already in order.

It's in the blending of the two lists into one that all the issues come in.

At core, the major problem is that CO had lots of great flights, and a very junior group of pilots relative to UA (because CO grew so fast, and because UA had been having problems, furloughing and not hiring). UA brings in lots of flights, and lots of pilots. That creates even more problems.

For example, if the integration results in a bunch of CO pilots that had been flying to Europe and Asia regularly before the integration, and then after the integration get to bid on flights to Peoria instead, that is the literal definition of getting shafted.

Justice can't be measured in generalities in such a process. It is measures by each pilot individually. It isn't fungible. One pilot getting more justice doesn't make up for some other pilot getting less justice. In fact, it only accentuates the injustice.

Saying that in any integration there are winners as losers is intellectually dishonest.

The result of this integration was the result of a political negotiation that protected the negotiators and sacrificed a smaller group in order to curry favor with a larger group. That is not the definition of fair. It is the definition of political expediency.
PhotoFinish 2
It was clear at the time of the seniority lists were merged that by looking at a visual representation of the meted seniority list, Contintental pilots position on the list squewed toward the bottom, including a wide bar of only CO pilots after the very last United pilot on the list.

The Continental division of the merged company brought the higher proportion of higher yielding and better paying flights.

It was clear that based on the merged seniority list, many pilots from the less successful United division would be able to bump CO pilots from flights they'd been working for years.

It's really a shame that one set of pilots should be able to bump pilot from the other division. It's astronomically worse that the pilots from the airline with a history of repeated failures should take away good work from pilots from the airline that was executing well, satisfying pasengers and generating great financial returns for the airline. That's no way to pay back a job well done.

It is another in a long list of examples of the inefficiencies, that labor unions have created at airlines, and that have made conditions worse for their employees, which is the stated purpose of these organizations.

Shameful. Putting the interests of the union ahead of the workers, that are purported to be represented by said union.
preacher1 3
When you move from Houston and surround yourself with a bunch of losers, what do you expect, Jeffrey. Can't blame the CO pilots. They got screwed royally.
Tom Bruce 2
oh boy...gonna' get blistered for this...but, always enjoy seeing pilots fight it out like this... on strike, 1981, pilots would walk by us and say "if you don't like your job, you should quit!"

well pilots, if you're getting screwed, quit!
always believed if we'd have had the support of the other unions, all of us would have ended up better it was, the airlines sided with Reagan to put us down in trade for better leverage against all the unions, including yours... yeah, yeah, I know....sour grapes... but we all got put down in 1981...

[This poster has been suspended.]

PhotoFinish 2
Pilots might get excited at a comment like that. But an extra 1000 hours is not worth an extra $130,000.

Saying that every plane has 2 planes, with the lower ranked being paid &150,000 or more with the higher ranking pilot making more would only mean:
1) many airline pilots would immediately be out of a job (at least half, and maybe more than 75% would be unemployed immediately
2) all but the largest airports would cease to have regular commercial airline service
3) regional-sized planes would cease to fly except as super-sized business jets flying only first class
4) frequencies of service would get cut back significantly to those places that still have service

5) All pensions for all airline employees would be completely erased permanently. All vested funds would be lost

6) Many airlines would go out of business. Those that don't go out of busines would struggle to stay in business. Working for an airline would suck. Employees would never know if their last at work would br the last day they would ever work again.

Sounds great as a sound bite. Sucks in reality.

Starting pay of $22k for first officers on planes carrying more than 9 passengers is horrible. Changing it to $150,000 would be even more disasterous.

Luckily the 1500 rule will have at least one side effect. Starting pay for new pilots will increase. Even more luckily, starting pay won't he anywhere near $150,000.

Take doctors, after 13-15 years of primary and secondary education, plus four years of college with excellent grades and 4 years of medical school (which includes 2 years in the hospitals), plus a medical degree and medical board exams, newly minted doctors still spend 3-5 years training as interns/residents making well under $50,000.

I would be happy for FOs to make no more than $50,000 until after their 5th year; earning $30's & $40's while learning their craft from more experienced pilots earning much more.

But suggesting $150k on day one is just as foolish, as it is unrealistic.

Piloting is an honorable and profession of great responsiblity and should paid accordingly. But everything in life has its' limits.

[Don't even get me started on executive and banker pay. Most earn less than mainline pilots with any significant amount of seniority. But the C-suite executives and investment bankers are paid amount that would make most people blush. But don't let that confuse reality for everyone else.]
preacher1 0
You are very correct, BUT, folks are still thinking of that 500-1000hour FO with a commercial ticket that ain't never seen the cockpit of a CRJ, let alone flew one, when it comes to pay. Now according to his hours and rating he is Captain qualified, other than typing in a particular plane. Don't believe it's quite the same and there are going to have to be some attitude adjustments as the FAA has laid down the law.
Paul Ham 1
Pilots can be as stupid as they are greedy! They eventually have to start arguing against their previous held view as circumstances can change with the wind, or mergers! Foolish but entertaining to see them try to rationalize anything!
preacher1 1
I don't necessarily care for unions, BUT, there ought to be a national registry, whether it is ALPA or not, of some type that will allow a pilot to transfer between Airlines without worrying about seniority. Other professionals do and are hired based on experience, in the pilots case total time. As is, a 12000 Captain can move airlines to say, change or shorten commute. It is foolish to see him go to the bottom of the roster, say under a 1500 hour wonder that has been at that particular carrier for a month or so.
This merger was sold on being a Merger of Equals - the CO side has been getting screwed from day one - CO was a proud and profitable airline with great people - United is killing everything Carmen Calella Maint Inspector MCO
preacher1 1
The merger itself kinda halfway made sense. What did not was moving corporate to Chicago and getting surrounded by a bunch of losers. Actually, as good as CO was doing, the merger didn't really make sense, in not having some of these safeguards put in place at first. UAL was a big unwieldy monster that had been on the rocks either with business or labor trouble for a long time. Just as with Douggie Boy at AAG, I guess Jeffery's ego got to him too.
Michael Smith 0
I agree with PhotoFinish. Senority does not make a pilot better. In the company I work for I have better skills after working there for only a year than others who have worked there for 5, 10, or more years. In fact, other employees come to me for assistance even though, based on the seniority logic, I shouldn't know as much.

While I think pilots should be paid a decent wage, I don't think paying someone over $150,000 for less than 100 hours of work a month is right. All that does is make those who have just started out get paid very little.

Additionally, I believe that the airlines should train their pilots ab-initio. In other words, they should pay for the pilots' training from private or commercial on up. Everyone wins. The pilots get their higher ratings and the airlines, by making the pilots sign a contract saying they will stay with the airline for x number of years, gets their investment back.
Michael Wendt 1
First, if you lower the top pilot's pay it will only put pressure to lower the bottom pilot's pay. Just because management might have more money does not mean they are willing to hand it out.

Second, you say a large paycheck is not right for someone working les than 100 hours a month. Please remember that is only the flight hours. Due to the geography of my current domicile (Guam) I will typically be on duty 10.5 hours for 8 hours pay. Trust me, this 1.3 duty to flight time ratio is EXTREMELY efficent scheduling. Your typical domestic pilot will have a ration closer to 2 to 1. In other words, a domestic pilot might be on duty 200 hours to earn the 100 flight hours of pay. A 9 to 5 employee averages 173 work hours a month.
Michael Smith 1
You're not including the (probably tax free) per diem in your example.
Because this article is about United, here's the salaries and other pay: (increases are coming this year)

Guaranteed hours: 70 (73 for pilots on reserve). this is paid whether the pilot works 10 hours or 70.
International override: $6.50 captain/$4.50 FO
Per diem: $2.15 domestic/$2.60 international (this is as much as $51.60/$62.40 a day)
Salaries range for $66/hour for FO on any aircraft (1st year) to $255/hour for 777 captain. Even at the low rate and based domestic 1680 hours a year flying plus duty time this comes to $33/hour


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