Pilots at United Continental on Tuesday voted to authorise a strike, showing their growing frustration after failing to agree a contract after two years of talks with management.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents pilots who flew for what were United and Continental Airlines before the two merged in 2010, said 99 percent of the voters supported a withdrawal of services, if required.
The vote makes a work stoppage far from certain, however. US federal law makes it difficult for airline unions to strike, and the White House can intervene to stop any walkout in the interest of keeping commerce going.
“This is not uncommon at this point in negotiations and was expected,” Chicago-based United Continental said in a statement. “The vote results alone do not permit the union to take any action, as there are several other procedural steps required under the Railway Labor Act.”
Pilots from United and Continental have been working without new contracts since they agreed to concessions in the airline industry’s financial traumas last decade, during which United went into bankruptcy and Continental took stringent cost-cutting measures.
“If a strike is what it is going to take to wake up the company’s leadership, the pilots are prepared to act,” said Captain Jay Heppner, chairman of the United Master Executive Council of ALPA.
Should the National Mediation Board declare an impasse between the parties, a strike could take place once a 30-day cooling-off period expires.
ALPA represents 7,600 pilots at United Airlines and 4,800 pilots at Continental Airlines.