Motorists driving to Bush Intercontinental Airport got a look at something you don’t see very often. Around 300 men and women wearing dark uniforms with white hats lined the street leading to the main terminals. The pilots are protesting the news United-Continental airline’s plan to outsource some of its flights. Captain Jay Pierce explains.
“A good example would be Houston to Albuquerque and back, which has traditionally been flown by mainline Continental or United pilots. And what they’re planning to do in January is take that flying, and even though they’re selling the ticket on Continental’s website or United’s website, the actual flying will be done by a small jet carrier and not our pilots.”
Pierce says travelers will think they’re flying United or Continental, but will actually be flying on a small jet owned by a small regional airlines. Those airlines have smaller planes and pay their pilots much less. It’s a cost saving measure during these hard economic times, but captain Pierce says United and Continental pilots have already done their part to help the company save money.
“This group of pilots you see out here all gave contractual concessions. We took wage rate decreases and cuts in our contracts valued at 213,000 a year. One of the things we got in return for those rage rates were these job protections.”
Brian Bagenski has been flying with Continental for 16 years and has reached the rank of first officer, which for him means a bigger paycheck. But that could change, if the outsourcing plan goes through.
“With fewer flights, there’s going to be fewer first officers and fewer captains. Since I’m one of the bottom captains, I’ll wind up as a first officer. Me personally, I lose pay. Pilots like Chris over here could lose their jobs.”
Chris, is fellow pilot Chris Grigis who isn’t a first officer. He holds a lower rank which means he could potentially be laid off. I asked him if he was laid off could he apply with one of the smaller regional carriers . He says yes, but it would mean about a nearly 90- percent pay cut.
“Young men and women that are flying regional jets are paid so poorly, it’s disgusting. I mean they start below 20-thousand dollars a year often times with limited health benefits if any benefits at all. There are literally major airline or airline pilots flying for regional airlines that qualify for food stamps.”
The pilots say their current contract prevents the company from outsourcing more flights. So besides picketing, they’ve also filed a grievance that will be heard by an arbitration board. The pilots say the company made them a promise and they just want the company to keep it. Bill Stamps KUHF News.