The last year was a very good one for the pilots at Trans States Airlines. The pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) negotiated a contract extension that improved pay, benefits, and quality of life, and the company announced an expansion of pilot bases, the arrival of new jets, and quick upgrades from first officer to captain.
“The improvements that we negotiated in the recent contract extension agreement reward our pilots for the work they’ve done to make the company so successful,” said Capt. Zach Barnes, the pilots’ MEC chairman. “Negotiators for both sides found common ground between the needs of both the company and the pilots and were able to reach an agreement that the majority of pilots could support.” The company needed improvements to entice new pilots during its recruiting efforts, and the pilots wanted enhancements to their pay, benefits, and quality of life.
“Of particular note, at the time the three-year extension was approved it included the highest first-year first-officer pay [$35.81 per hour] in the U.S. regional industry,” Barnes said. The contract extension also included annual cost-of-living pay increases for all pilots, an increase to the pilots’ per diem rate, a reduction to the percentage pilots pay for health-insurance premiums, an increase to the company’s 401(k) contributions, a signing bonus, and other improvements.
“The majority of our pilots realize that this extension, which provided immediate gains in quality of life and pay, is significantly more beneficial than engaging this company in traditional Section 6 contract negotiations,” noted Barnes. “We were able to reach this deal a mere three weeks after our contract’s amendable date, which is a monumental achievement for this pilot group, which endured more than five years of negotiations for our previous contract.”
Now the pilots and company are negotiating a letter of agreement for a preferential bidding system (PBS), together with other contractual changes that will further enhance the company’s efficiencies and the pilots’ quality of life. According to Barnes, “Talks have been productive. It’s a complicated process to redefine Section 25 [Scheduling] of the contract to provide a foundation for success, but we’re optimistic we can reach a deal on PBS that benefits both sides.”
The Trans States pilot group continues to grow, with steady hiring necessary to staff the additional jets added to the property in 2015. That growth resulted in an expansion of the pilots’ Washington Dulles, Va., domicile and the addition of a new Denver, Colo., domicile in 2015 and Raleigh–Durham later this year. More aircraft also means that the time it takes a pilot to upgrade remains low—at around a year, according to Barnes.
He added that the current success of the company and level of satisfaction within the pilot group have been boosted by the positive working relationship between labor and management. “We meet with Capt. Keith Stamper, our director of Flight Operations, regularly to mitigate contract compliance issues before they become grievances,” Barnes said. This cooperative relationship with management has resulted in only three outstanding grievances at the end of 2014 and only four grievances filed in 2015. “These regularly scheduled labor-relations meetings go a long way toward fostering a successful working relationship between management and the pilots,” Barnes said.
The pilot group still faces challenges in 2016, Barnes admitted. An uptick in attrition—with the pilots moving on to the mainline carriers that have bigger aircraft—has created some difficulties staffing committees with volunteers. “It’s vital to the continuing success of the MEC that we keep our committees fully staffed with volunteers so that we can properly support our pilot group,” acknowledged Barnes.
“It was a good year for Trans States pilots,” Barnes concluded, “and I’m optimistic that despite the ongoing challenges we face, there will be continued growth and success for the pilots and the airline in 2016.”