U.S. airline union takes aim at regionals, not JetBlue

Fri Apr 25, 2014 7:25pm EDT
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By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At the end of a week that saw the top U.S. airline pilots' union win a ringing victory at JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O: Quote), the union's head showed his willingness to offer both a carrot and a stick in future dealings with the industry.

Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak sounded a conciliatory note at discount carrier JetBlue, saying the union will be focused on maintaining relations with management and advocating for better airline industry policy in Washington rather than pushing for pay hikes.

But he signaled a tougher approach toward regional airlines, which he said pay starting pilots as little as $16,500 a year, saying that there would have to be a "market-based solution" at such carriers, which feed passengers from smaller cities to larger hubs.

Coming amid relatively strong U.S. airline earnings, the yes vote by 71 percent of eligible JetBlue pilots had raised questions about whether airline unions were positioning to win back wage and benefits concessions they made over the last decade.

JetBlue shares are down 9.6 percent since Monday in a week that also saw the airline post weak quarterly earnings and a Reuters report that its flight attendants would seek to follow suit in holding a vote to unionize.

But Moak signaled that a pay increase was not his primary goal.

"JetBlue is the same company today as it was on Monday," Moak said, "Now that the pilots are organized, we're going to engage with the company to ensure that it continues to be a great company and that the culture continues."

That's not to say there won't be upward pressure on wages. Airline unions have already made gains in recent years and that pressure is likely to persist, particularly at the regional carriers, which have been suffering from a pilot shortage.   Continued...

A JetBlue Airways logo is seen at the check-in counter at LaGuardia Airport in New York April 5, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson