Alaska Pilots
Pilots take part in a joint Alaska/Virgin America picket and rally on Aug. 2, 2017, at Angle Lake Park in Seattle, Wash.

Nearly two years after Alaska Airlines announced that it would be buying Virgin America and merging the two airlines, the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America pilots are continuing the process of bringing their two groups together.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the first step in the merger process—reaching a joint collective bargaining agreement—concluded when an arbitration panel issued a decision on the combined group’s pay, 401(k) retirement benefits, and scope. Pay increases for all pilots and increases to the defined-contribution percentage of the retirement plan were achieved for some but not all pilots. The pilot group had sought even larger increases in an agreement that conformed fully with those of industry peers at other successful airlines. The arbitrated decision fell short in all three areas, leaving the pilots behind peers at other successful airlines.

“Negotiations were forced to arbitration, which was required in the event of a merger under the terms of the 2009 agreement, because throughout 2017 Alaska management refused to take seriously the need to negotiate an agreement on par with other airlines, which is frustrating and disappointing,” said Capt. Chris Notaro, the Alaska pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “This did not need to go to arbitration. Management’s position throughout negotiations and in arbitration—and the fact that management was not able to work with us to reach a negotiated agreement—says a lot about the way the company views labor.”

With a joint collective bargaining agreement in place, the pilots have turned their attention to implementing the agreement, and to the next steps dictated by ALPA merger policy—integrating seniority lists and then merging the MECs.

Focus also has shifted to April 1, 2020, when the arbitrated joint collective bargaining agreement becomes amendable. No arbitration clause applies for this negotiation, and the normal Section 6 process will apply. Alaska/Virgin America pilots are expecting and readying themselves for a contentious fight with management when negotiations begin.

“Based on management’s statements and short-term thinking during the just-completed joint contract negotiations, we expect to have a fight on our hands in 2020 to improve our collective bargaining agreement,” Notaro said. “The unity displayed by the Alaska and Virgin America pilots during joint collective bargaining negotiations provides an excellent foundation on which to build for the next two years. We will be ready to make further improvements to our arbitrated result in this joint bargaining agreement.”