DENVER – Pilots at Frontier Airlines have threatened to authorize a strike if the union and the airline cannot agree on a plan to raise pilot pay, but labor experts say a strike is unlikely.
If a strike happens, it would not likely be until 2018 or 2019, according to Denver labor attorney Colin Barnacle with the Akerman law firm.
Barnacle says passengers with tickets will not likely be affected by the labor negotiations this year.
“What’s going on right now is a whole lot of chess playing between the pilots’ union and Frontier Airlines,” Barnacle said. “Before there’s a strike, a federal mediation board -- which is part of the negotiations -- has to declare both sides cannot come to an agreement.”
In past airline contract disputes, it has taken three years before the federal mediators agreed to say there was an impasse, Barnacle said.
“This is economic warfare, and this is what unions do in these situations to try and force the employer into negotiations along their terms,” he said.
The pilots’ union has been negotiating with the airline for 18 months, union spokesman Alan Christie says. The National Mediation Board entered the process several months ago, Barnacle said.
“The national mediators will try for years and years before they will allow a strike,” he said.
Pilots cannot legally strike unless the mediation board says both sides are at an impasse. There must also be a 30-day cooling off period.
“The pilots will NOT strike until legally permitted to do so, and the company has given us no other choice,” Alan Christie, spokesman for the pilots’ union in Denver, told Denver7 investigative reporter Jace Larson.
Union members and leadership say they are unhappy because they are the lowest-paid pilots in North America who fly Airbus planes. They want higher wages and point to recent company profits as justification.
Frontier reported a $200 million profit in 2016.
The Air Line Pilots Association claims pilots at Frontier earn, on average, 60 percent of what pilots do at other airlines.
Frontier Airlines has not commented on pilots’ claims that they want more money.
Frontier Airlines spokesman Richard Oliver issued a statement to Denver7 Investigates Wednesday.
"We are negotiating through the formal mediation process, and this action has no bearing on that process. As long as these negotiations continue, there is absolutely zero threat of a strike,” the statement said. “Frontier remains committed to reaching an agreement that is fair for both our pilots and the company."