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Teamsters Union Sues Republic Airways Over Hiring Contract
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has filed a lawsuit against Republic Airways and Cape Air over a new pilot contract released by Republic earlier this year. The Teamsters say Republic’s contract unlawfully imposes non-compete clauses and fines on pilots who violate it.
Details of Republic’s New Pilot Contract
The contract in question, which is part of the Republic Airways New First Officer Career Advancement Program, was released last month. In short, pilots who sign it are required to “aggressively pursue the path to Captain upgrade,” mainly by picking up extra flights in addition to their monthly schedule, and they are bound to at least 2 years of service as a Republic captain after that.
Republic promised $60,000 to pilots who met these performance criteria. Paid out in four installments, the bonus would be completely received by the end of the pilot’s first year as a captain. However, Republic stipulated that, should a pilot resign or be demoted back to a first officer before their service term is up, they would be required to repay the previous $15,000 bonus installment and forfeit their rights to any remaining installments. Any pilot who voluntarily leaves the airline in under 3 years (roughly the time to upgrade to captain plus serve the two-year Captain requirement) would be fined $100,000 by the airline to recoup costs the airline incurred training them. In addition, pilots who resign before the three-year mark would be barred from working for any other competing airline for a year.
The contract faced immediate backlash from industry professionals, who claimed it was unnecessarily overbearing. Teamsters filed a grievance against Republic soon after the contract was released, saying it violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that the union has with the airline.
“Forced upgrades and mandatory overtime have been rejected by Negotiating Committees over several negotiation cycles,” the union explained at the time. “That the Company would impose them as a condition of employment is a circumvention of our CBA we will vigorously challenge.”
Now, over a month after the contract was first released, Teamsters is taking the next step by filing a lawsuit against Republic and Cape Air, per a press release.
“The lawsuit asserts the employment contracts are an attempt by the airlines to change pilots’ working conditions unilaterally, in violation of federal labor law under the Railway Labor Act,” Teamsters said in a press release on their lawsuit.
“The contracts that pilots at these two companies are forced to sign as a condition of employment are unlawful and we fully expect to win in court,” said Josh LeBlanc, President of Teamsters Local 357 and a Republic Airways pilot. “These punishing non-compete agreements are not a solution for the labor supply problem that these employers created of their own accord.”
“If these companies are having a hard time recruiting pilots, then they should do what nearly every other airline has done in a competitive job market – increase wages and benefits,” said Joe Muckle, President of Teamsters Local 1224. “Trying to retain professional pilots by handcuffing them with bogus contracts is illegal and bad business, which is why no other airline is doing this. The Teamsters will fight this with the full force of our union.”
Republic’s union says they worry that, instead of retaining more pilots to boost its operation, the company’s contract will drive new hires, turned off by the steep price of leaving the company, away to other regionals, thus diminishing Republic’s safety and reputation.
“We believe this Agreement, even before we get into haggling over its enforceability, will have a chilling effect on the quantity and quality of the Pilots willing to choose Republic to begin their career,” the Teamsters union mentioned last month when the new pilot contract was initially released.
Alternative Pilot Recruitment Methods
The fight between Republic and Teamsters comes as airlines, especially regional carriers, are suffering from a significant shortage of captains. As many of their most experienced pilots leave to fly for mainline legacy airlines, low-cost carriers, and cargo companies, regionals have seen a significant imbalance in how many first officers vs captains they have; many flights canceled for crew issues are because of a lack of qualified captains, not due to a general pilot shortage.
Thus, Republic’s new contract seems like a method of solving that problem. By retaining captains for a set period of time, they will have a steady stream of pilots whose hiring and training they can intentionally plan to keep planes in the air.
Teamsters say, though, that Republic should focus on other methods to attract and retain pilots. They say that boosting pay and benefits are a more desirable method to attract the most experienced and qualified pilots. Republic was among the last regional carriers to give its pilots raises during the COVID-19 rebound; they had neglected to do so until after the Federal Aviation Administration rejected a proposal that would have allowed the airline to hire pilots trained by its in-house flight school at 750 hours instead of the standard 1,500.
This contract came six months after Teamsters and Republic ratified the aforementioned CBA. The union had focused on goals specifically aimed at attracting pilots at the beginning of their careers, theoretically making the company a more desirable place to work. Updates at that time include 70%-90% pay raises for first officers and 54% raises for captains, as well as improved retirement benefits, increases in compensation for Check Airmen, pay increases for deadhead transportation, and increased flexibility and transparency for Reserve Pilots.
It has yet to be seen how Teamsters’ lawsuit, or Republic’s contract, will fare. Whether Republic will keep getting new pilots with this contract is also to be seen. Perhaps the ways Republic advertises the benefits of the contract will play a role in getting new hires to continue signing the contract. And, if the Union’s lawsuit fails and Republic keeps hiring the pilots it needs, is this something other regional airlines would pick up to meet their demand for captains?
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