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American Merger Brings Another Seniority Battle for US Airways Pilots

Tickers in this article: AAL
Charlotte ( TheStreet) -- Once again, US Airways pilots find themselves in a tough spot on seniority.

In 2005, a merger with America West led to a controversial seniority ruling, never implemented, that continues to divide pilots from the two airlines because a key provision appears to favor west pilots. Now, it appears, another divisive seniority conflict could result from the 2013 merger with American .

Last week, talks between the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, and the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, which represents US Airways pilots, broke down over the issue of the timeline for when APA takes over as the sole union representing pilots at the new American.

No airline merger has been more tarnished by a seniority dispute than America West/US Airways, which led the US Airways pilots to leave the Air Line Pilots Association after 57 years, forming a new union called the U.S. Pilots Association and dragging reluctant American West pilots along with them.

This time, the pilots from the pre-merger US Airways, still known as "the east," are where the west pilots were eight years ago -- in the minority. That could make their situation more difficult. APA has about 8,800 active members, while USAPA has about 4,400. About a third are from AWA and do not generally support the union.

The merger between American and US Airways closed on Dec. 9, 2013. That started a 30-day clock on negotiating a protocol agreement involving the logistics of seniority negotiations. Two extensions were granted, which took the deadline to Feb. 18. The conflict surfaced the next day.

An agreement between the three parties, negotiated before the merger occurred, said the two unions would begin seniority integration talks as soon as possible after the merger occurred. That agreement provided that if a seniority protocol deal could not be reached, seniority would be determined by the 2007 McCaskill-Bond statute, which requires arbitration if negotiations cannot produce an integrated seniority list for groups represented by two different unions.

The agreement also said that seniority arbitration would occur after the parties agreed to a joint contract and after the National Mediation Board finds that American and US Airways are a "single carrier."

APA interpreted that to mean that once the NMB finds the combined airlines have single-carrier status, then USAPA will go away even if no seniority deal is in place, which is something the east pilots had not expected. APA filed for single-carrier status on Jan. 14.

The first signs of conflict appeared in a series of pilot communications that began on Feb. 19, when the USAPA merger committee told members that APA had changed its position. Until then, talks had appeared to be going smoothly. However, USAPA said, the APA merger committee demanded that APA and the airline have the option to modify the protocol agreement once the NMB certifies APA as the sole pilot representative. That modification could enable APA to take over before a seniority agreement is reached.