Spirit Airlines’ Pilots Go On Strike : Is This The End?

It appears that the old pep rally cheer of “We’ve got spirit yes we do! We’ve got spirit how ’bout you?” does not apply to Spirit Airlines.

At 5:01AM eastern standard time, after long negations had broken off between Spirit Airlines‘ and its Pilot’s represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) … and following legally mandated cooling off period by the National Mediation Board had expired, Spirit Airlines’ Pilots have taken to the picket lines today on strike.

Spirit Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association had been negotiating a new contract since July 2006…yes almost four full years. While the primary public objective of the pilots strike is due to pay, their pay is actually not the lowest among mainline airlines in the United States. First year First Officers earn US$40 an hour, compared to US$33 an hour at United Airlines and US$25 an hour for US Airways-East

The issue related to pay is of course not just the pay, but the ‘total compensation’ including benefits and work rules. A significant source of contention between Spirit Airlines and its pilots is better healthcare, a more equitable retirement plan and pay raises that are equal to their seniority and experience.

From a neutral standpoint this is what has been offered by Spirit Airlines and rejected by ALPA. A US$3,000 signing bonus, a 30% pay increase over five years, an increased retirement match program and a four-day break between each pilot trip. The four-day break is not offered by any other airline in a contract that ALPA has negotiated.

The real strife between Spirit Airlines and its pilots’ dates back to Mid-2008, when ALPA filed a lawsuit accusing management of violating their contract regarding sick leave usage.  The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice in June 2009. This law suit lead to a nearly unanimous vote to authorize a strike action once it was legal go on strike.

…but really what is the impact of the Spirit Airlines strike? The airline has no interline agreements, no code shares, flies a limited route network … so really the impact should not be that wide spread, but its impact could be felt sharply and permanently by more than 2,300 employs of the airline.

A month ago, today, Spirit Airlines sent a mass notification of layoffs to all its employees, as required by law in New Jersey and Florida. In this letter Spirit Airlines stated:

“If ALPA strikes, we cannot predict how long ALPA will be on strike, but we can foresee that a strike could force us to shut down operations permanently,” the airline said. “Accordingly, the first day that ALPA goes out on strike could possibly be the last day of employment with Spirit for our pilots in Atlantic City and systemwide.”

Now with the strike on, we have entered a game of ‘Chicken’ and we have to see who will blink first. Will Spirit Airlines and ALPA come together and finally agree on a contract … or will Spirit Airlines throw in the towel and dissolve the company?

With Spirit Airlines having posted a US$107,100,000 operating profit in 2009, no one wins if the strike results in the closure of the airline.

(EDITED TO ADD : I STRONGLY SUGGEST READING THE COMMENTS POSTED BY CHRIS NEVINS BELOW IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. THANK YOU CHRIS)

Happy Flying!

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Comments

  1. Steven, for a truly neutral factoid on what Spirit offered and ALPA rejected you would include more than what Spirit management put out in their press release.

    For example, ALPA also rejected no duty rigs, fly to the FAR’s, upgrade at the digression of the Chief Pilot, to accrue a year of seniority you must fly 840 hard hours & 2/3 reduction in 401k match. The $3000 “signing bonus” was to be in lieu of 4 years of retro pay which for a 30% raise offered would be $40000 for the most junior pilot.

    As long as Spirit management fancies themselves the next Lorenzo, then Spirit probably has flown it’s last revenue flight. As long as airline management wants to continue pattern bargaining under the RLA and be able to take advantage of going 4 extra years without a new contract, then they have to realize that they are negotiating with all of ALPA and not just the few hundred Spirit pilots.

  2. Chris

    The info I had came from ALPA, not Spirit in early June. The info you are posting here, and I appreciate you taking the time to post the information, was not included in the information sent to me from ALPA.

    Thanks again for taking the time to post the info.

    In the Spirit – ALPA fight I honestly have no side or opinion on right or wrong as getting a truly neutral response to what is happening has become quite challenging.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  3. The timing on this is interesting, though. Spirit has received unprecedented press for its ultra-low-cost business model of late. We’ve seen Ben touting carry-on baggage fees and fixed recline seats from NBC to CNN. If Spirit wants to ride the wave of publicity (operating from the assumption that even bad press is good press), it should settle with the pilots as quickly as possible.

  4. Mary,

    Ben is likely not below setting up a holding company, dissolving Spirit Airlines then selling the airline, its AOC & its assets to the holdings company to restart another airline quickly.

    Swissair did something like this with Swiss International Air Lines, under very different circumstances, in 2002.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  5. Like you said, they have been enjoying the negative publicity and it has increase their profits.

    Really this fits into the “we are willing to do silly stuff to save you money” category. By fighting with employees to pay them less it shows they are trying to save money and pass that to the customer.

    Not saying that is the truth…

    David

  6. I was due to fly home to St Thomas on Saturday. I paid $60 for a big front seat and $200 to travel with my small dog. I visited my wife who was undergoing surgery. Now I have to go back to work. I’m stranded in Florida with a dog, a rental car and a head cold. I feel for the pilots, but I have a contract with management. I can’t fly any other airline with my dog, even if I could afford another ticket. I say fire the pilots, hire new ones (I’m sure there are plenty out of work) and fulfill the contract with the customer!

  7. Jeff,

    People join a Union so they can be free from fear of being terminated for disagreeing with management. Spirit’s pilots have been in contract negotiations since July 2006, they sued Spirit due to the airline not honouring portions of their sick leave and they underwent a legally required 30 day cooling offer period after negotiations through the U.S. Government’s National Mediation Board fell through … so they have the legal right to strike without being fired.

    Also, keep this in mind … a Union Strike may be inconvenient for others impacted by the strike, but we can thank Unions for a five day work week, 40 hr work week, paid vacations, paid sick days and personal days and health insurance and other common thing we take for granted. If it was not for Unions demanded fair pay and benefits from their employers in the early in the 1900s we’d not have these things.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  8. I’ve been a practicing professional engineer for 40 years. I have never had a union. I’ve owned my own small firm for 20 years. I get no raises. I can’t limit myself to 40 hours a week. I don’t get free health care. There is no guarantee that I’ll make enough next month to even pay my mortgage. I make only what I earn. How can the pilots call themselves ‘professionals’? If you don’t like the terms of employment, change jobs. Flying Spirit is an uncomfortable experience. But just like the pilots, if we don’t like the terms, fly on a different airline. Why do Americans think we are owed everything we have?

  9. @Gerry: So is it safe to presume that you’re not a member of NJSPE? You know, the group that advocates on behalf of self employed engineers like yourself. You know, the one that is fighting things like, oh, competitive bidding on state contracts (the kind that employ engineers like, hey – you!) that would, you know, make you more money?

    Sounds kind of like some kind of a collective group that tries to fight for it’s member’s employment rights and to protect their earnings.

    The fact that your “union” isn’t as effective at bargaining as the pilots should make you a little bit jealous (and apparently has) but you shouldn’t begrudge their attempt at protecting their interests in what would otherwise be an uneven bargaining situation.

  10. I was travelling with 10 other people to vegas for a pool tournament, we were to leave on Sat June 13-10 at 10PM. We found out that Spirit pilots were on strike Sat at 4 AM ( no call to advise up of flight being cancelled) . They advised us that they would refund out money however it would have to be done thru Corporate level on June 14-10 (no guarantee thought) Now on their website is states that they would assist us in locating another filght – ya right. we were all told to find out own way home!
    All 11 of us had to stay in Vegas till Monday June 14-10 at 3PM as there were no other flights to take us home. We had to split the group in two and take two different airlines to get to detroit so that we could pick our vehicles up and drive back to Hamilton Ontario (home). I am also looking for a lawsuit as we had to spend and extra two days in Vegas (hotel $$) and find our own way home at a much more expensive rate. Oh yah and lost wages from work!! I too will never use your service again – as Spirit Airlines never helped us with anything!!!!
    If anyone hears of a lawsuit can you please let me know – Thank you !!

  11. I would like to know how ALPA is reconciling an apparent conflict of interest with the Spirit pilots. It appears that ALPA wins regardless of the outcome of the Spirit strike. If the airline closes down, then the industry is rid of a discount competitor leaving more business, and more leverage for the other ALPA pilots against the management of those airlines. If the Spirit pilots are successful, then the ALPA pilots have more incentive to use their strike as leverage. Either way, ALPA wins and the only potential losers are the Spirit pilots in the event the airline closes. How are the Spirit pilots protected in that case? Is ALPA rallying to get those pilots hired elsewhere in the industry, if so, how does that work?

  12. Todd,

    If I was to use any airline customer advocate service I’d use Brett Snyder’s Cranky Concierge. You can find more information on Cranky Concierge at http://crankyconcierge.com or find him on Twitter at @crankyconcierge

    Brett Snyder, author of Cranky Flier’s blog, is at the top of the heap in knowing the ins-and-outs of getting passengers what they need. If I was ever looking for assistance, Cranky Concierge is the ONLY place I’d look for help.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  13. FOR ALL YOU UNINFORMED NOT ONLY DID THEY TURN DOWN 26 PERCENT BT THEY ONLY FLY ABOUT 50 OR 60 HOURS A MONTH DUE TO FAA REGULATIONS ITS NOT LIKE WORKING A 40 TO60 HOUR WORK WEEK LIKE THE REST OF OF THE WORKING WORLD.

  14. Thanks, Fish. We have been working hard to help people all week. Now that there’s a TA in place, it sounds like the airline will get started again by Friday. Of course, I bet we won’t see a full schedule until next week. So it’ll be another busy week for us – and I’m not complaining!

  15. Tom,

    That is more likely 80-90 hours and it doesnt include the hour of preparation before each flight, and 15-20 minutes after each flight. It doesnt include time spent training or studying for training. It doesnt include a lot of things. I guarantee you I work more than 40 hours a week!

  16. would have been nice if the jerks had somehow let me know that My pregnanat wife and two little girls were going to get screwed at the airport after driving almost three hours to Detroit. Thanks a lot to the pilot jerks for not giving some kind of heads up. Spirit even let me print boarding passes the night before. Jerks!!!!

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