United Airlines pilots want higher pay than their counterparts at Delta Air Lines and at least similar improvements in work-life balance in their new contract, the head of their union said. Garth Thompson, in an interview late on Wednesday, told Reuters that any proposal that falls short of those expectations will have no takers.
Delta’s landmark pilots contract, which offers USD 7 billion in higher pay and benefits, is putting pressure on rival carriers to hand out similar deals ahead of a busy summer travel season.
“We expect our contract to raise the bar from Delta’s contract,” Thompson said. “We’re not just looking for more money, we’re looking for several areas of improvement that we’ve been waiting a long time to achieve.”
United’s contract came up for renewal in 2019 and negotiations have been underway for five years. Last year, its pilots overwhelmingly voted against a tentative contract, which the union said fell short of what members were seeking.
Since then, United pilots have been protesting for a better deal. On Friday, they plan to picket at 10 airports.
Airlines tend to have pattern bargaining. When one deal gets done, unions at other carriers use that as a benchmark to negotiate their contracts.
With pilots in short supply and air travel demand booming, pilots are enjoying enhanced bargaining power.
Thompson said United’s willingness to merely match Delta’s pay will not be acceptable to many of its pilots as the market is “fairly competitive.”
He said pilots also want a contract that meets or exceeds the standards set by Delta’s deal in improving work-life balance. “Quality of work-life provisions have been the focal point for our proposals,” he said. “There are still significant disagreements at the table on those work provisions.”
In a statement, United said it is working with the pilots’ union on the “industry-leading deal” that it has put on the table.
A person familiar with the contract negotiations told Reuters that United has proposed on average 18% pay increases in a new five-year contract for pilots. The company has also agreed with 79 quality-of-life improvements proposed by the union for the next contract, the person said.
Thompson said the union wants provisions in the new contract that would prevent the company from forcing pilots to involuntarily accept assignments or reassignments on their day-off. Quality of life concerns are making many first officers decline opportunities to be promoted to captains as they do not want to subject their work life to more potential disruptions, Thompson said. As a result, bids for about 100 captain positions at United went unfilled last month, he added.
The situation could snowball into a major issue and impact the airline’s summer schedule next year, Thompson warned.