A Mesa ERJ 175LR at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Photo: Capt. Scott Ewing (Mesa)
In 2020, Mesa Airlines expanded its aircraft fleet and diversified its operations through a cargo partnership with DHL Express. Thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery from the COVID pandemic, 2021 provided Mesa pilots an opportunity to build back stronger than ever. And in 2022, they focused on Section 6 negotiations to improve their pilot working agreement.
“With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, the Master Executive Council [MEC] sought a quick and focused Section 6 negotiation with substantial gains in the key areas that our pilots lagged behind our peers: compensation and health care,” said Capt. Chris Gill, the pilots’ MEC chair.
The current pilot working agreement became amendable on July 13, 2021, and the Negotiating Committee began active bargaining with the company in September 2021. After only nine months, the Negotiating Committee and the company reached a tentative agreement in June 2022.
“We focused our negotiations on improvements to compensation and health-care cost sharing, with an agreement to immediately open negotiations on quality-of-life scheduling improvements afterward as those discussions tend to add months to bargaining,” remarked Capt. Tad Hetler, the Negotiating Committee chair. “We made it clear to the company that we can do more with more. Pilots who are supported and compensated commensurate with their skill and the value they bring to our mainline partners in turn allows Mesa to be competitive and grow the business.”
The MEC approved the tentative agreement, and the ratification vote was set to open on June 15. On June 10, the fee-for-departure (FFD) sector was stunned when American Airlines and its three wholly owned subsidiaries—FFD carriers Envoy Air, Piedmont, and PSA—announced agreements with unprecedented pilot pay rates for the FFD sector. As a result of this news, Mesa pilots demanded rates in line with this seismic change in the industry. The pilots demonstrated their position with 68 percent rejecting the tentative agreement. The Negotiating Committee returned to the table seeking better pay rates.
“The pilot labor market is at an all-time high with every FFD carrier experiencing high attrition as major and low-cost carriers scramble to hire enough pilots to serve the increased demand for air travel,” said Gill. “Mesa pilots bet on pilot demand proving the need for commensurate pay rates, and that bet paid off.”
In August, less than two months after the failed agreement, the Negotiating Committee brought the MEC a letter of agreement (LOA) with industry-leading pay rates for Mesa pilots. Under this LOA, new-hire first officers will earn $100 per hour, and first-year captains will earn $150 per hour, leading the FFD sector in permanent, contractual pay rates.
“These new pay rates represent a nearly 118 percent increase for first-year captains and 172 percent for new-hire first officers over our current pilot working agreement,” Hetler commented. “This LOA was ratified outside of the Section 6 process, which continues. Now that the biggest hurdle to our bargaining is complete, we can focus on the quality-of-life improvements our pilots deserve.”
Mesa is consistently short staffed, resulting in pilot scheduling and quality-of-life issues, which pilots want to address in round two of Section 6 negotiations. Improvements in these areas will also allow the pilot group to build a strong roster of volunteers who have the time and availability to support union work.
The MEC is working to bolster its volunteer ranks, engage its pilots, and provide more resources for its members. “Our union is only as strong as our pilot volunteers,” remarked Gill. “Our union exists to support our pilots and their careers and provide the assistance they need. If you’d like to be part of that support, please consider volunteering.”