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United’s Legal Move Stokes Tension Among Pilots

One of four pilots named in a lawsuit by United Airlines alleging sick-leave abuse has been fired and another has been suspended, fueling tensions before the company begins union contract negotiations next month.

September 16, 2011
Related Topics: Ethics, Labor Relations, Policies and Procedures, Latest News
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One of four pilots named in a lawsuit by United Airlines alleging sick-leave abuse has been fired and another has been suspended, fueling tensions before the company begins union contract negotiations next month.

Capt. Steve Tamkin was fired and Capt. Rob Domaleski was given a 60-day suspension last week, according to a memo issued Friday, March 13, by the Air Line Pilots Association.

The two men were among those named in the lawsuit filed last year by United against ALPA in which the airline accused the pilots of organizing a sick-out campaign from July 19-27. On average, more than 500 pilots called in sick each day during that period, forcing United to cancel 329 flights and costing the airline $8 million in revenue, United claims.

The union contends the recent action against the two pilots is the opening shot in contract negotiations scheduled to begin in April. United pilots, who took a 40 percent pay cut when the airline was in bankruptcy proceedings, have made clear that they want to recover lost wages.

The contract becomes amendable at the end of the year, though it technically does not expire because airline employees are covered by a federal law that dictates prolonged mediation and makes strikes difficult.

“The company’s intent,” the ALPA memo said, “is to undermine and destroy not only your union at United Airlines but your very unity. Why? Because management well knows that your unity is the key to our success in the upcoming negotiations.”

The union and Domaleski declined to comment. Tamkin couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

United took its pilots to federal court last year and won an injunction from U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow in Chicago prohibiting pilots from using sick leave to protest decisions by airline management. The decision was upheld last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The airline accused the pilots of launching the “sick-out” campaign related to United’s decision to pare capacity in the face of high oil prices, resulting in the loss of 950 pilot jobs. The union said it worked to prevent a sick-out campaign.

United declined to comment specifically on recent actions, if any, involving the two pilots, but a spokeswoman said, “When a federal court finds that employees have intentionally and unlawfully acted to harm our company and our customers, we will hold them accountable.”

Judge Lefkow found that Tamkin and Domaleski and the two others “were directly involved in instigating a sick-out among United’s junior pilots in July 2008.”

Filed by of John Pletz of Crain’s Chicago Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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