Alaska Airlines pilots vote to authorize a strike, setting stage for a showdown with the airline

May 25, 2022

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The vast majority of Alaska Airlines‘ nearly 3,100 union pilots have voted to go on strike.

In the vote conducted by the Alaska Airlines master executive council of the Air Line Pilots Association, 99% of pilots voted in favor of a strike, with 96% of eligible pilots participating, the union said.

Wednesday’s results do not necessarily mean the pilots will actually walk off the job.

However, it does open the door for a strike if the National Mediation Board, the federal labor relations board for the airline industry, gives the pilots permission to do so. On the flip side, Alaska’s management could theoretically choose to lock its pilots out.

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There are two key things that would need to happen before any lockout or strike. First, the NMB would need to release both the company and the union from mediation. This would be followed by a mandated 30-day cooling-off period. So, if there was to be a strike, it would likely be a long way off, but it would also likely come during peak summer travel season.

Alaska’s pilots have been negotiating a new contract with the airline’s management for three years, and they said there has been little progress. This has continued into the tenure of the airline’s new CEO Ben Minicucci, who took over last spring.

“For three years, Alaska pilots have been resolved in their commitment to reach a new agreement and today, we spoke with one unified voice, just like we did with our recent informational picketing event,” captain Will McQuillen, the chairman of Alaska’s pilot union, said in a statement. “For years, we have been working toward a market-based contract with reasonable solutions that address work rules, scheduling flexibility, and career-security issues that pilots at other companies enjoy, not a strike. Now is the time for management to respond and engage constructively at the bargaining table.”

More: Alaska Airlines’ cancellation woes not over yet; CEO says it will be back on track by July

If Alaska’s pilots do strike, it would be the first pilot strike at a U.S. passenger airline since a short strike in 2010 by Spirit Airlines pilots.

Alaska has been plagued by poor operational performance in recent weeks — a strong incentive for both sides to avert a strike ahead of what’s expected to be a very busy summer travel season.

Reacting to the strike vote, Alaska Airlines emphasized that pilots are not on strike, and reiterated its commitment to contract negotiations.

“Alaska Airlines pilots are not on strike,” the airline said in a statement. “As ALPA said this morning, a strike can only occur after a specific, multi-step process involving the federal government and National Mediation Board.  Our guests and operation are not impacted by this vote. We remain committed to reaching a deal to provide an updated contract that is good for Alaska’s pilots.”

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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