By Allison Lampert
(Reuters) -North American pilots took fresh steps on Monday to press for workforce gains, with American Airlines Group Inc pilots backing a strike mandate and Air Canada pilots supporting a merger with a larger union.
American Airlines pilots approved the mandate ahead of the busy summer travel season to further pressure the Texas-based carrier for a contract, although the chances of them actually walking off the job remain slim.
The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents about 15,000 American Airlines pilots, held a strike authorization vote in April, even as the two sides closed in on an agreement in principle.
More than 96% of APA membership voted and over 99% voted in favor of authorizing a strike, the union said in a statement.
“We remain confident that an agreement for our pilots is within reach and can be finalized quickly. The finish line is in sight,” American Airlines said in a statement.
Separately, a majority of the estimated 4,500 pilots who fly for Canada’s largest carrier voted 84% for a March agreement to merge with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the two unions said in a statement confirming earlier reporting by Reuters.
A merger with ALPA, the world’s largest pilots union with more than 60,000 members, is seen as beneficial, in part, for providing additional bargaining resources. Air Canada pilots are not currently in negotiations.
ALPA’s executive board would first need to ratify the merger on May 17. American Airlines pilots are also considering a merger with ALPA, with discussion to be raised in early June, an Allied spokesperson said.
North American pilots are pressing for better salaries and working conditions as carriers struggle to staff up to meet soaring travel demand after COVID-19. But some airline executives warn hefty raises will inflate fixed costs and make it tougher to repair debt-laden balance sheets.
Canada’s second largest carrier WestJet Airlines, which announced it completed its acquisition of leisure carrier Sunwing Airlines on Monday, is facing bargaining pressure from its pilots who have authorized strike action as early as May 16.
By contrast, it would be hard for American Airlines pilots to walk off the job because of a complex labor process in the U.S. that makes it difficult for airline workers to strike.
In March, Delta Air Lines pilots ratified a new contract that includes $7 billion in cumulative increases in pay and benefits over four years.
American’s chief executive has said the carrier is prepared to match the pay rates and profit-sharing formula that rival Delta provided in its new contract.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Priyamvada C in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Josie Kao)