The dust of the merger hasn’t even settled yet and already Continental and United pilots are quarreling. Let’s hope this sibling rivalry is ironed out faster than America West and US Airways pilots have worked out their differences (we’re still waiting on that)…
On the bright side, the area of disagreement is narrow: union leaders are at odds over how to pay pilots who fly the carrier’s largest aircraft on international flights. But that hasn’t stop rival union leaders from exchanging barbs and accusations regarding "opposition" tactics and motives.
United has a bigger fleet with larger aircraft than Continental. Typically, the larger the aircraft, the more the pilot is paid. With two dozen 747s in United’s fleet plus scores of 777s, should those UA pilots be paid more? UA has retired its 737s but CO has a large fleet of them. Should those pilots be paid less? Because CO avoided bankruptcy in the post 9/11 aviation downturn, their senior captains piloting the largest planes are currently paid more than UA’s (though not much more [$167K versus $160K on UA]).
Perhaps the biggest contention will be the status of the 747. Captain Wendy Morse, United’s union rep (and a woman I have had the pleasure of flying with before) and Captain Jay Pierce, her counterpart at CO don’t see eye-to-eye on the issue:
Morse said that the Continental union had crafted its pay bands "in the hopes of leveling the playing field and attempting to thwart our predominantly large, wide-body fleet." Pierce accused United of trying carve out a special status for its Boeing 747 jets.
And negotiations aren’t helped by people like Jayson Baron, who leads CO pilots at Newark and threatened to "’hold up negotiations for years’ and keep United pilots tied to a bankruptcy-era contract they consider draconian unless they agreed to Continental’s proposed pay bands." That’s not the way brothers should get along…
The next step is for ALPA’s national office to step in and act as intermediately between the two groups. While there is never a perfect solution for structuring pay and seniority after a merger, hopefully cooler heads will prevails and accord can be reached a-la Northwest/Delta. It won’t bode well for the combined company to have pilots that don’t trust each other.