Date: Monday, July 17, 2023
Source: Wall Street Journal
United Airlines Holdings struck a preliminary contract agreement with its pilots that would provide pay raises of 34.5% to roughly 40%, the latest move by major airlines to boost wages and incentives while carriers grapple with a pilot shortage.
The deal underscores the new dynamics for pilots in the now-booming airline industry, as pilot unions at Delta Air Lines and American Airlines Group have also reached new labor agreements that include substantial pay raises and other benefits.
United’s agreement, which still needs to be made final and ratified by its pilots, also includes changes to work rules aimed at giving pilots more control over their schedules, union leaders said. The Air Line Pilots Association, the union that represents United’s pilots, said Saturday that the deal is worth about $10 billion. Pilots would initially get pay bumps of 13.8% to 18.7% followed by additional raises in later years.
Pilots’ initial pay rates under this contract would range from around $110 an hour to over $420 an hour. That would amount to a range of between about $100,000 for a newly hired pilot to over $400,000 a year for a senior widebody captain, based on the number of flight hours a pilot typically works in a month.
United Chief Executive Scott Kirby said the deal would deliver “a meaningful pay raise and quality of life improvements” while facilitating the airline’s growth.
Carriers are reporting record revenues after a severe downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic. But they have often strained to meet the surging demand as they have raced to hire and train more pilots after encouraging thousands to retire early during the pandemic.
Labor negotiations at several carriers hit snags in recent months as pilots held out for better deals that offered improvements in such things as schedules and vacation as well as pay. United’s pilots last year rejected a deal that would have included pay raises of more than 14.5% over 18 months. Talks have grown increasingly tense as pilots have picketed at airports and been critical of United management.
The contract that Delta’s pilots ratified earlier this year set a new high for pilot pay and benefits that rival carriers have scrambled to match or exceed. Unions have been closely watching one another’s negotiations, and some agreements include provisions to ensure that another carrier doesn’t offer a better deal.
American Airlines pilots are set to begin voting this month on a new four-year deal that would boost wages 41.5%. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s pilots, said late Saturday that it plans to review the United agreement to determine whether its own proposed contract terms now need to be revisited.
“As always, we’ll work with the APA to make sure our pilots are taken care of,” an American spokesman said in a written statement.
Southwest Airlines pilots have said their negotiations have stalled and last month asked to be released from federal mediation. If the request is granted, it would bring Southwest pilots a step closer to a potential strike.
Adam Carlisle, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations, at the time disputed that the talks had reached an impasse. He said Southwest had made an “industry leading” compensation proposal and scheduling changes, and said the airline remained confident that a deal could be reached.