Alaska Air reaches tentative deal with its pilots

Jun 6, 2013

Alaska Air has reached a tentative five-year contract with its nearly 1,500 pilots. It’s a bright note in an industry known for testy labor relations.

The contract includes pay raises, but neither side gave details. They’d been negotiating for almost a year. The Air Line Pilots Association says the deal protects retirement and insurance benefits. The pilots’ elected leadership recommended unanimously that the pilots accept it.

William Swelbar is a research engineer at MIT focused on the airline industry. He says the deal was reached quickly by airline standards, and that’s just one reason why he thinks it’s significant.

"The fact that they did this deal without a mediator – that’s telling as well," Swelbar said. "And have your committee unanimously recommend it to the membership, wow."

He says Alaska has traditionally had better labor relations than other airlines. It took American Airlines six years to reach a deal with its pilots.

But even Alaska has faced its share of labor conflicts lately.

Its flight attendants staged a loud protest outside the company’s annual shareholders meeting last month over stalled contract negotiations. They’ve asked for a mediator to step in.

And ground crew at Sea-Tac international airport who work for companies that contract with Alaska Air have been agitating for better pay. They also protested at Alaska’s shareholder meeting, saying the airline needs to put pressure on its contractors to improve pay.