Sixty-three airline pilots have sued US Airways, American Airlines and the labor union that represents the pilots, asserting they have been denied seniority credit for a period they were furloughed in the mid 2000s.
The issue has come up now because an arbitration panel in Washington, D.C. is deciding how to craft a single seniority list for the 14,000 pilots of the merged US Airways and American airlines.
American operates a hub and 76 percent of the flights in Philadelphia.
Combining the seniority lists of US Airways and American, which merged in 2013, went to binding arbitration in September.
Pilot John Karas, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was hired in 2004 by US Airways and furloughed in 2006, after US Airways went through a second bankruptcy reorganization and merged in 2005 with America West Airlines.
Karas, who is based at Philadelphia International Airport and lives in Florida, got his job back in 2007 under terms of his collective bargaining agreement. He has been flying ever since.
The lawsuit contends that the 63 pilots' dates of hire were altered to give their furlough recall date as the day they were hired, thus giving them lower seniority.
Pilot seniority affects salary, benefits, the size aircraft they fly, flight routes, geographic "home base" preference, and pension, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in New York.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles has set a hearing June 17 in the Northern District of New York in Binghamton.
Also joining as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are 11 pilots who flew for US Airways before the carrier's merger with America West. The US Airways group, known as the "East" pilots, contend the stripping of seniority for the 63 impacts the seniority rights of 3,100 former US Airways pilots.
The lawsuit alleges that the current arbitration over seniority rights is being conducted unlawfully, and that union leadership breached its duty of fair representation obligations to members.
The issue of seniority among US Airways pilots has been contentious for a decade.
When US Airways and America West pilots could not agree on how to merge their separate seniority lists,the dispute went to binding arbitration. The panel gave some America West pilots higher seniority than a group of US Airways pilots who had been on furlough.
The US Airways "East" pilots refused to accept the arbitration decision, and replaced the Air Lines Pilots Association (APLA) with a new union, USAPA.
The seniority lists of US Airways and America West pilots were never merged.
Now as US Airways and American try to become a single carrier, the issue of seniority is again controversial.
American Airlines declined to comment Thursday.
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