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)