United/Continental Pilots Get Authority To Call Strike Vote

Even though United Airlines and Continental have merged just about everything else, the pilots remain represented by two different groups at the Air Line Pilots Association. Even so, all pilots for the merged carriers received union approval to ask members to vote on a strike if negotiations with management break down.

For two years, the pilots have been trying to negotiate improvements to contracts, drawn in the shadow of 9/11, that cut pay by around 40% as a measure to help the carriers work their way out of bankruptcy.

Last week, pilots asked the National Mediation Board to release the union from mediated negotiations that have been going on since Feb. 2011. United Airlines says it still hopes these negotiations will bring resolution to the matter sans strike, but a rep for the ALPA group that represents Continental pilots tells the Chicago Tribune he doesn’t have such a sunny outlook:

There has been more than ample time to reach agreement on a new contract… While a strike is never the pilots’ preference for the path to reaching agreement, we are more than willing to use every tool at our disposal, including exercising our ultimate leverage and legally withholding our services. … With the agonizingly slow pace of negotiations, management has left us with little option.

Both the approval to call a strike vote and the request to be released from the mediated negotiations are preliminary steps toward a possible strike. No deadline has been given by the pilots for what is now the nation’s largest airline.

United, Continental pilots cleared to call a strike vote [Chicago Tribune]