AmWest pilots group halts efforts to change leaders - East Valley Tribune: Business

AmWest pilots group halts efforts to change leaders

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Posted: Friday, September 10, 2004 7:06 am | Updated: 5:46 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A group of America West Airlines pilots that began a drive a year ago to replace their labor union say the effort has been suspended.

The America West Airlines Pilots Association said their push resulted in 45 percent of the company’s roughly 1,850 pilots signing cards to authorize a change a leadership.

More than half of the pilots had to sign the cards to ask the National Mediation Board to investigate the dispute.

The pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, a national union.

"While theoretically a card drive . . . could continue forever . . . the AWAPA Organizing Committee finds itself swimming upstream against a rapid current and unable to make enough progress to justify continuing the drive," wrote John McIlvenna, a first officer, in an e-mail. McIlvenna is co-chairman of the committee that was organizing the association.

"To that end, we have decided to temporarily suspend the AWAPA drive and no longer accept cards or donations."

The Air Line Pilots Association is the biggest pilot union in the United States and Canada with 66,000 members.

But those who advocated change said the national leadership has too many conflicts to lobby for them.

At the end of 2003, after fours years of negotiations and two failed votes, just 51 percent of company’s pilots approved a 3-year-labor deal.

A new pilots association leader who took over in July hopes to bring the fractured union back together.

"I understand how they felt a bit disfranchised from their own union," said C.J. Szmal, chairman of the America West Air Line Pilots Association.

"To their credit, they put a lot of energy and effort into making a change here. They made a last push before Labor Day and they were unable to convince a majority of the pilots to make a change in representation, and they very graciously have acknowledged that . . . and I find that honorable.

"Quite literally, their representation drive, while it was lackluster toward the end, it hung around like an albatross. We have a lot of work to do with this pilot group when it comes to the division that was created by a very marginal passing of a contract."

McIlvenna’s group formed after more then three years of contract negotiations and a failed vote over a tentative agreement.

A dozen pilots at the Tempe-based airline proposed a new independent union that they say would have more control over issues faced by the rank-and-file.

McIlvenna said his group’s effort has been a wake up call to management and the pilots association.

"AWAPA collected over $6,000 in donations from nearly 70 pilots and has made waves in the union movement nationwide," he said.

He said the group will go dormant, but its corporate structure will remain in place as well as its Web site.

"The fact is that AWAPA has 70-100 strong pilot volunteers that we can call on to quickly flood the group with a new set of cards if need be," McIlvenna said.

"Also, AWAPA might morph into a (political action committee) for AWA pilots separate from ALPA but capable of placing newspaper ads or the like in support of pilot issues. We are behind on building political capital."

America West management declined to comment.

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