Mesa Air Group
As 2015 came to an end, Mesa pilots found themselves in familiar territory: new Master Executive Council (MEC) leaders, a new Negotiating Committee, and new airplanes—but no new contract. However, the pilot group is rebuilding with the expectation of finally achieving a fair contract.
In August 2015, after more than five years of negotiations, the pilots’ Negotiating Committee secured a tentative agreement, which it presented to the MEC. Despite the company’s growth, a thorough review of Mesa’s finances revealed that the airline had slim profits to share with its pilots. Yet the Negotiating Committee attempted to get as much of that profit as it could for the pilot group while also solving the long-standing base pay issue—often cited in polling as the pilots’ number one priority.
The base pay problem stemmed from the previous contract, which allowed the company to pay pilots on reserve, vacation, or sick leave the 50-seat aircraft scale—despite having only one 50-seat aircraft on the property. The pilots fought this repeatedly through grievances and arbitrations, but to no avail. They felt the only way to address the pay issue was at the bargaining table.
“Our Negotiating Committee was given the unenviable task of negotiating with a company with limited resources and numerous issues to solve,” said Capt. Andy Hughes, who was elected MEC chairman in November 2015. “Our pilots wanted to see improvements in almost every section of our contract, from pay to health care to per diem—all areas that lag far behind those of our competitors.”
At the August MEC meeting, the MEC made the difficult decision to unanimously support the tentative agreement. Road shows began later that month. MEC officers, Negotiating Committee members, and ALPA Representation, Economic & Financial Analysis (E&FA), and Communications staff traveled to Dallas and Houston, Tex., and Phoenix, Ariz., for three days of road shows in each domicile. Each show included a briefing from E&FA staff highlighting the state of the industry and the airline’s current finances. E&FA analysts stated that they were given unprecedented access to the company’s books and forecasts and performed their own valuation of the company.
It was clear from discussions at the road shows that the agreement fell short for much of the pilot group. Despite addressing base pay, the agreement failed to improve first officer pay—which starts at a staggeringly low $22 an hour. It also didn’t include any improvements to the company-provided health care, which few of the pilots use due to its high cost. Outside of base pay, there were small improvements to salary.
During the ratification process, the MEC worked to help create an online calculator that showed each pilot the real value of the contract, often resulting in significant pay increases over the life of the contract. This calculator included per diem increases as well as the elimination of base pay. However, on October 2, the pilot group overwhelmingly voted down the agreement, with only 14 percent voting in favor of ratification.
Just days after the vote, the company announced an agreement with United Airlines to add 15 new Embraer 175s to the property, which will necessitate hiring approximately 150 first officers and result in captain upgrades for 75 pilots.
In November, the MEC met in Phoenix and voted in Hughes as the new MEC chairman and Capt. Christopher Gill as vice chairman, as well as a new Negotiating Committee. The MEC discussed the results of an online survey conducted shortly after the pilots rejected the tentative agreement.
“Although we commend the work of our Negotiating Committee, especially given the circumstances, it simply wasn’t enough for the vast majority of our pilot group,” said Hughes. “The pilot leaders will now go back and adjust our negotiating priorities to better meet the needs of this group. Mesa Airlines is growing, and the pilots are a vital part of that success. Every pilot on this property deserves a fair and equitable contract. And they shouldn’t have to wait any longer for it.”