Spirit pilots to cast strike vote

Union says the pilots paid as much as 40 percent less than counterparts

Miami Herald/MCT

A member of Spirit Airlines grounds crew guides a jet toward the runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.
Miami Herald/MCT A member of Spirit Airlines grounds crew guides a jet toward the runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.

MIRAMAR, Fla. — Unionized pilots at Spirit Airlines are gearing up for a key vote starting Aug. 21 that could pave the way for them to strike if contract negotiations with the low-cost carrier hit an impasse.

Leaders of Spirit’s pilot group announced Monday they agreed unanimously to put a strike-authorization ballot before 1,600 unionized pilots for voting through Sept. 8.

If the measure passes, the pilots only could call for a strike if released from supervised talks by the National Mediation Board and following a 30-day cooling off-period.

Spirit and its pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilot Association International, have been in contract negotiations for more than two and a half years.

“Spirit pilots are not looking to strike. We are looking for an industry-standard contract that brings our compensation in line with our fellow pilots — that remains our main goal,” Capt. Stuart Morrison, chairman of the Spirit ALPA, said in a statement. “However, we are willing to take any lawful steps necessary, including a legal strike, to achieve the contract every Spirit pilot has earned.”

The union contends Spirit’s pilots are compensated far less — as much as 40 percent — than their counterparts at other airlines flying similar routes and aircraft. They say their pay remains below industry standards even as the airline makes significant profits.

A Spirit official could not be reached for comment early Monday.

During the second quarter, Spirit took a $45 million hit on its earnings due to an alleged work slowdown by the pilots that resulted in more than 850 flight cancellations. That included $25 million in lost revenue and $20 million in additional operating costs associated with rebooking passengers.

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