Mesa Air Group
Capt. Laura Woods is interviewed by a television station in Houston, Tex., during the pilots’ picketing event last December.
For any pilot group, contract negotiations can be a grueling, exasperating process. Each year without a contract is another year on the same pay scales with the same benefits. It’s especially frustrating when other pilot groups are negotiating new agreements and expanding the pay gap even further. For the past six years, Mesa pilots have been trying to achieve a contract that would provide them with the security and pay rates that would ensure their future at the airline. Unfortunately, 2016 was just another year of waiting.
“We’ve now been in contract negotiations for six years despite one failed tentative agreement,” said Capt. Andy Hughes, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “While other airlines are getting agreements, we’re still waiting for a fair and equitable contract.”
In early December, the pilots held their first picketing event since contract talks resumed almost one year ago at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Tex., a hub of operations for United Airlines whose express routes Mesa flies. More than 70 pilots picketed both outside airport property and inside the terminals to demand a new contract now. Accompanied by an aggressive communications campaign and a grant from ALPA’s Major Contingency Fund, pilot leaders are putting pressure on the company to come to the table with a ratifiable agreement.
Mesa pilots are some of the lowest paid in the fee-for-departure segment of the industry. In fact, some Mesa pilots make only half as much as pilots flying the same routes on the same types of aircraft. The pilots’ benefits also significantly lag behind those of other fee-for-departure pilots. A first officer with a family of four can spend the vast majority of his or her pay simply paying for company-provided health care, so many pilots are rejecting the high cost of Mesa’s health care and are seeking outside coverage or going on a spouse’s coverage.
“A first-year first officer can make as little as $22,000 a year,” said Hughes. “If the first-year pilot has a family of four, this puts him or her well under the federal poverty line. The pilot is also coming out of flight school with potentially $100,000 of education debt that he or she must try to pay off while making less than half the median income in Mesa’s home state of Arizona.”
Given the low pay rates, the company has been coming up with new ideas to attract and fill its new-hire classes, resulting in approximately 340 pilots being hired in 2016. Mesa’s corporate website touts that the airline will pay new-hire pilots $30,000 of incentives and promises quick upgrades.
“While Mesa is spending its time making promises and commitments to pilots not even yet on the property,” said Hughes, “it’s been failing to recognize the contributions of the pilots who’ve built this airline over decades of hard work and commitment. Rather than making Mesa an attractive place to work for all pilots, it’s expending energy and funds into luring new pilots into new-hire classes.”
The airline has been able to provide these quick upgrades because it’s been adding new airplanes. Over the past three years, Mesa has doubled the size of its fleet. This growth has led to a flurry of hiring—but no increase in pay for the pilots, many of whom have been on the property for decades. Instead, the company has touted growth and expansion but has dragged its heels at the negotiating table.
“In just the last few years, we’ve seen Mesa invest millions of dollars in new aircraft,” said Hughes. “It’s time that this company invests in the pilot group with a contract that brings every Mesa pilot up to the industry average for the fee-for-departure segment. It’s time for a contract—and we’re tired of waiting.”