Pilots picket at MSP, protest Sun Country’s ‘unacceptable’ offer


In shifts of about 50, Sun Country pilots and their colleagues from other airlines marched silently in single file outside Terminal 2 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this afternoon.

The informational picket, attended by virtually all of Sun Country’s 247 active pilots who were not flying or in training, put the Minnesota-based airline on notice that its pilots remain committed to changing their status as the lowest-paid 737 pilots in the nation.

That is, Sun Country pilots are 100 percent committed.

That’s the level of support they showed in a vote two months ago authorizing their union, the Air Line Pilots Association, to call a strike if necessary.

ALPA members stage informational picketing outside Terminal 2 at MSP.

ALPA members stage informational picketing outside Terminal 2 at MSP.

Pilots have been in negotiations with Sun Country since their contract became amendable in April 2010, and the two sides began sessions with the National Mediation Board two years later.

With their negotiations stuck in a holding pattern, Sun Country pilots have only fallen further behind their peers in the industry. Capt. Jake Yockers, spokesperson for the Sun Country ALPA unit, said Sun Country pilots now earn 30 percent below the average pay for 737 pilots.

In negotiations, ALPA has proposed raising pilots’ pay up to the industry average gradually over the course of a new five-year contract. But Sun Country answered with a proposal that would keep pilots’ wages near the bottom of the industry, Yockers said.

“It is unacceptable,” he said. “We’re not asking for Delta wages. We’re not asking for Southwest wages. We’re just asking for the average wage.”

The airline’s ownership group, Yockers noted, has turned a profit every year since purchasing Sun Country in July 2011. The airline has doubled in size, added more routes and strengthened its position in the market. But its pilots, so far, have been left out of the gains.

“The employees have been there for the company in the bad times,” Yockers said. “We think that loyalty needs to be rewarded in the good times.”

In a press release, Capt. Brian Roseen, chairman of Sun Country’s ALPA Master Executive Council, said pilots are hopeful of reaching an agreement with the airline, but prepared “to do everything the law allows to lift ourselves up from the bottom of the industry.”

In order to go on strike, the NMB would have to declare that additional mediation efforts would not be productive and extend an offer to arbitrate the dispute. If either side declines arbitration, the parties enter a 30-day “cooling off” period, after which they are free to exercise “self-help” – in the pilots’ case, a strike.

A strike is not in either side’s best interest, pilots say.

“We don’t want a strike; we want a deal,” Yockers said. “We want to negotiate, and we’ll be ready with a response to the company’s proposal.”

Pilots from United, Delta, FedEx Express, Compass, Endeavor Air and other ALPA pilot groups joined the informational picket in solidarity with Sun Country pilots.

Said Capt. Paul Jackson, president of the Southwest Air Line Pilots Association: “Low fares do not have to equal low wages in our industry, and we fully support our friends at Sun Country in seeking a fair agreement.”


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