Alaska pilots authorize future strike if contract talks fail

Alaska Airlines pilots have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a future strike if current contract negotiations with management and federal mediation efforts fail.

The Air Line Pilots Association said Wednesday that almost 96% of its members cast mail-in votes and that 99% of those authorized the union’s leaders to call a strike if necessary and when permitted after a prolonged process managed by the National Mediation Board, according to a report from The Seattle Times.

Following an informational picket in April by 1,500 off-duty pilots, the vote may increase pressure on Alaska Airlines management to come to a contract settlement. The union has been stalled for years trying to negotiate a contract that addresses work rules, scheduling flexibility and career security.

In a memo to the pilots, Capt. Will McQuillen, council chairperson of the pilots association’s Alaska unit, said the vote provides union negotiators "an important tool to help achieve your goals."

He said it also sends "a clear message that you are unwilling to fall further behind your peers" at other major airlines.

RELATED: Alaska Airlines still struggling with pilot shortage, canceling flights

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.

A strike, however, cannot happen soon.

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.

RELATED: Alaska Airlines cancellations: CEO says 'ripple effect' to continue causing flight disruptions through May

A spate of Alaska Airlines flight cancellations over the past two months were not because of labor action by the pilots but were caused by a general pilot shortage.

Alaska’s management misjudged how many newly hired pilots would graduate from its training school this spring. The airline cut its flight schedule in response and said the situation should substantially improve in June.