Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
Pilots at American Airlines are approving a new labor contract, which could clear the way for consideration of a merger with US Airways.
Members of the Allied Pilots Association voted to approve a tentative agreement with American Airlines Friday, the APA says.
APA President Keith Wilson said the contract will provide pilots with industry standard pay and benefits in the near future and employee ownership in the company.
"With that we show we are a unified pilot group, looking forward to working with the corporation that we now have a 13 percent ownership stake in, to ensure that the corporation becomes a successful and viable carrier going forward," he said.
But Wilson said a proposed merger would be a still better path for the company.
"We believe that in this competitive environment that we face right now, the old adage, it’s bigger it’s better. And it’s been proven by Delta and the United corporations. And we believe American needs to grow stronger and larger faster than it can alone, and we think the merger is the best path to make that happen," Wilson said.
According to the APA, about 96 percent of the pilots voted with 73.78 percent in favor of the agreement.
“We are pleased our pilots supported and ratified this agreement, which is an important step forward in our restructuring," said Denise Lynn, American Airlines senior vice president. "This agreement addresses the priorities identified by the APA during collaborative talks. Today’s ratification gives us the certainty we need for American to successfully restructure, providing opportunity and growth for all of our people and stakeholders. The modernization of our company is well underway, and we remain focused on emerging as a competitive, world-class airline.”
With the court's approval, all of the airline's work groups are now be under new collective bargaining agreements as the airline continues working to emerge from bankruptcy.
Since entering bankruptcy protection in Nov., 2011, the airline has renegotiated contracts with all union-represented work groups in an attempt to save $1 billion per year.
APA board members voted to approve the tentative agreement last month, which put the proposal up for a vote by pilots. Since then, the APA president has urged the pilots to accept the agreement or risk setting the pilots on "a path of self-destruction."
The 7,500 pilots rejected a previous company offer in August, and American responded by getting federal bankruptcy court approval to impose pay and benefit cuts. However, American said it wanted to reach a consensual deal with its pilots, especially as it prepares to emerge from bankruptcy.
The issues include pay raises, furlough protection and limits on American's ability to use smaller planes typically operated by regional airlines such as American Eagle and SkyWest. Specifics of the contract agreement have not been made public.
NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff and Chris Van Horne contributed to this report.