US Airways, Pilots May Restart Contract Talks

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- (TheStreet) -- The National Mediation Board wants US Airways (LCC) and its pilots to negotiate a contract, whether or not the carrier merges with AMR (AAMRQ.PK) .

Resolving the contentious seniority issue, which has divided pilots since a 2005 merger between US Airways and America West, would be put off until every other contract issue has been resolved.

"The NMB has asked that USAPA and US Airways devise a process under which there will be negotiations and tentative agreement on all other sections of the contract prior to discussing seniority," said Gary Hummel, USAPA president, in a letter to pilots on Thursday.

"Everyone understands that the seniority issue has caused us years of delay," Hummel said. "It is time to complete the other 29 sections of our contract first, and when that process is complete, USAPA will present a comprehensive proposal for section 22 of the contract which deals with seniority.

The union and the airline should establish a negotiation process by Nov. 21, the NMB said, after which negotiations could be scheduled, according to Hummel's letter.

In the letter, Hummel said union officials met with the NMB Chairman Harry Hoglander on Thursday morning to request that mediated negotiations be restarted. Negotiations broke off last year due to a lack of progress. Hummel said Hoglander responded that if negotiations are to restart, "consideration of the contentious seniority issue must be postponed until all other sections of the contract in dispute have been tentatively agreed upon."

During the airline's third-quarter earnings call in October, CEO Doug Parker responded to a question regarding pilot negotiations by saying: "The NMB recessed those negotiations some time ago. And if the NMB decides it's time to bring them back, we'll of course be there and ready to negotiate as we have been all along."

Parker noted, however, that "the seniority matter is still not resolved and clearly, we can't get to a contract until there's seniority list resolved."

US Airways is currently pursuing a merger with AMR. If that merger were to occur, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, would negotiate a contract for all of the airline's pilots.

"If the merger takes place, USAPA would of course talk with whatever management is in place," said USAPA spokesman James Ray. "Whatever gets us to a contract first is what we're interested in. But we have to proceed on the assumption that there may not be a merger."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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