By Rajesh Kumar Singh
CHICAGO (Reuters) -American Airlines and its pilot union have begun negotiations to improve their tentative contract agreement on Tuesday ahead of a crucial vote on the contract, according to a union memo seen by Reuters.
The Texas-based carrier’s pilots are due to start voting Monday on a new four-year deal that provides for a pay increase of about 42% and other benefits. But the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents them, warned ratification was in “jeopardy” after United Airlines raised the benchmark in its pilots’ contract.
“Our respective bargaining teams have committed to working around the clock beginning tonight for the next few days to address crucial improvements,” APA’s head Ed Sicher told the pilots in a memo on Tuesday.
U.S. union employees are piling pressure on their employers for better contracts amid frustration with stagnant pay, high healthcare costs, scanty sick time and uncertain scheduling.
In the memo, Sicher said American Airlines CEO Robert Isom has “acknowledged that significant improvements must be made” to the agreement.
A union spokesperson said the talks began on Tuesday and will continue on Wednesday.
American Airlines declined to comment. On Tuesday, the company said it would work with the union to take care of its pilots.
American’s union has said United’s contract will lead to at least a 2% pay gap between American and United pilots. United’s contract also offers better back pay, as well as more days off for junior pilots and sick time, it added.
“Is management serious about doing what’s required? Do they understand the need for a genuinely competitive pilot contract?” Sicher wrote in the memo. “Time will tell, and it won’t take long.”
In a separate memo Tuesday night, American’s pilot union instructed its staff to prepare for informational picketing by the close of business on Monday in case talks fail.
Airline unions negotiate their contracts in a so-called pattern bargaining process where a deal at one carrier acts as a benchmark for other agreements.
An industry-wide pilot shortage and a booming travel demand have also handed unions enhanced bargaining power.
(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Editing by Franklin Paul, Aurora Ellis and Susan Heavey)