Alaska Airlines pilots overwhelming agreed to strike if new employment contract negotiations fall flat.
According to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), nearly 96% of its members cast mail-in votes and "an overwhelming" 99% of those authorized union leaders to call a strike if necessary and when permitted after a prolonged process managed by the National Mediation Board.
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This comes after 1,500 off-duty pilots held an informational picket in April at every Alaska Airlines base.
For the past three years the union has been trying to negotiate a contract that addresses work rules, scheduling flexibility and career security.
"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," Capt. Will McQuillen, council chairperson of the pilots association’s Alaska unit, said in a statement. "Now is the time for management to respond and engage constructively at the bargaining table."
After a management request, the pilots’ union and company officials are meeting again this week. The union told its members it will report to them Friday on the outcome of those talks.
Alaska Airlines clarified in a statement that this does not mean the pilots are on a strike.
"As ALPA said this morning, a strike can only occur after a specific, multi-step process involving the federal government and National Mediation Board," the carrier said.
Federal legislation governing national transportation workers mandates that before they can strike, the National Mediation Board must decide that additional mediation efforts would not be productive and must offer an opportunity to resolve the contract through arbitration. That could take months.
If either side declines the arbitration, a further 30-day "cooling off" period is required before strike action.
However, this comes after the carrier already announced that it has had to cancel flights through June 1 due to ongoing operational challenges.
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci anannounced in May that it's challenges stem from not having enough pilots to fly its spring schedule. Minicucci said the carrier started April and May with 63 fewer Alaska pilots than it planned for.
"By the time we recognized we would be short, April and May schedules were already bid by our pilots and flight attendants," Minicucci said. The carrier expects to be back on track by July.
However, if a strike were to happen, it would only exacerbate the staffing issues Alaska is facing, the ALPA argued.
"Alaska won’t retain existing pilots or attract the new pilots needed for growth without a market-based contract," the ALPA said. "Existing pilots continue to leave Alaska Airlines in record numbers for better career opportunities elsewhere, and prospective pilots have other options in a robust job market."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.