A federal court in Arizona recently entered an order requiring the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA) to negotiate in good faith for a single contract including an arbitrated seniority list for all 5,200 pilots at US Airways following the airline's 2005 merger with America West. See Addington v. US Airline Pilot's Ass'n (July 17, 2009). The court entered the order after a jury found that USAPA breached its duty of fair representation to former America West pilots by abandoning an arbitrated seniority list in favor of a date-of-hire list.
This case arose out of the 2005 merger of America West with US Airways. At the time of the merger, there were approximately 5,100 pilots on the US Airways seniority list ("East pilots") and approximately 1,900 pilots on the America West seniority list ("West pilots"). Both pilot groups were represented by ALPA from the time of the merger until April 2008.
ALPA's merger representatives were unable to reach an agreement on integration of the pilot seniority lists and the issue ultimately was submitted to an arbitration panel. The arbitration panel's award placed 500 senior East pilots at the top of the list because of their experience with wide body international aircraft that America West did not operate before the merger. It placed approximately 1,700 East pilots who were furloughed at the time of the merger at the bottom of the list because of their diminished career expectations. Then it blended the remainder of the East Pilot list with the West Pilot list generally according to the relative position of the pilots on their original lists.
After the arbitration award was issued, a group of East pilots who were unhappy with the award formed USAPA. USAPA was certified as the representative of the East and West pilots in April 2008. In September 2008, USAPA submitted a seniority proposal to the airline, which was substantially less favorable to the West pilots than the arbitration award. The company continued to operate under two seniority lists and furloughed approximately 175 West pilots who would not have been furloughed under the terms of the arbitration award's seniority list.
Subsequently, six furloughed West pilots sued USAPA alleging the union breached its duty of fair representation. Ruling in favor of the pilots, the court found that USAPA breached its duty of fair representation because its sole object in adopting and presenting its seniority proposal to the airline was to benefit the East pilots at the expense of the West pilots. The court held that USAPA failed to prove that any legitimate union objective motivated its acts.
Rejecting USAPA's argument that the pursuit of date-of-hire seniority principles automatically legitimates its actions, the court noted that the significance of date-of-hire seniority varies from one labor negotiation to the next. Here, the court found that the union's "date-of-hire agenda is just a means of changing the arbitrated outcome for no purpose other than to favor the majority."
Further, the court held that that the union's claim that its seniority proposal was necessary to get a single CBA was pretextual, finding that the evidence showed that any asserted impasse was a pretext for bare favoritism of the East Pilots. Additionally, court held that even if an impasse did exist, it would not justify USAPA's actions as a matter of law. "Majority opposition does not defeat the duty of fair representation; the duty exists to restrain the majority."
The court entered an injunction ordering USAPA to make all reasonable efforts to negotiate and implement a single CBA with US Airways implementing the arbitration award seniority proposal and to defend the seniority rights arising from the arbitration award. Additionally, the court prohibited USAPA from negotiating for separate CBAs for the separate pilot groups.