America West Airlines union mechanics hailed a ruling Monday they say will restore $1 million in sick time taken away from them when the carrier changed accrual rules two years ago.
Earlier this month, an arbitrator sided with the workers who had filed a grievance saying the Tempe-based airline slashed their sick pay accrual by half despite plain language in the contract.
“This is a huge victory for us,” said Andrew Marshall, secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 104, which represents about 800 America West mechanics in 15 stations in the United States. “It's a massive amount of money. Obviously, sick leave time for anybody is a big deal, but to have it cut in half like that arbitrarily and have it take two years for us to get what we already knew was true in the ruling, is a big victory.”
America West spokeswoman Janice Monahan said the company was studying the financial impact of the decision.
“We had a different interpretation of the policy,” she said. Marshall said the contract has a specific formula for awarding sick pay on an annual basis. “They were calculating it on a quarterly basis, in violation of the contract, so they reduced everybody's sick leave accrual from eight hours per month to four hours per month back in January of 2002,” he said. “And so the grievance . . . forces them to go back and retroactively restore everybody's sick pay four hours per month.”
Reinstating the sick pay will cost the company $1 million, Marshall said. And for every year going forward, the ruling is about a $650,000 hit, he said.
Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said the victory sends a powerful message.
“A union contract is a binding agreement between our members and the company and we will fight to protect the best interest of our members,” he said in a statement. Marshall dismissed any notion America West read the policy differently.
“The contract is explicit. The formula is based on annual hours,” he said. “They were saying, ‘You know what, that's a mistake. We meant to change that to quarterly hours in the formula.’ The arbitration ruling was very specific. This could not be an oversight and could not be an error in the printing of the contract. They were trying to be cheap.”
The decision comes as the carrier's pilots are in the middle of a third contract ratification vote this year. The last one failed this month by just five votes. The newest offer extends long-term disability payments from age 60 to age 65. It also removes a signing bonus being used to offset a retirement benefit. The latest offer also provides a bigger share of productivity bonuses to pilots.
Vote tabulations are expected on Dec. 30. Airline stocks changed little Monday after the United States raised the terrorist threat alert to “high.” America West stock fell 27 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $11.43 a share.