PHOENIX - Frustrated by an internal dispute over seniority, US Airways pilots yesterday ousted their union of 59 years and agreed to be represented by another group.
The rare decertification election, supervised by the federal National Mediation Board, gave the fledgling US Airline Pilots Association the right to represent the 5,300 pilots in US Airways' system.
The group was created and supported mostly by pilots from the former, Virginia-based US Airways who clashed with other pilots after their carrier was acquired by America West in 2005.
Their struggles have become a cautionary tale as a new wave of combination talks sweep through the industry.
Though the Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier surged in profit the first year after its merger, problems among its pilots have continued to fester.
Pilots have said that disagreements over seniority have led to shouting matches. Supporters of rival pilot unions, the Air Line Pilots Association and the US Airline Pilots Association, have sent each other threatening e-mails and called each other to the parking lot to settle arguments.
Seniority is extremely important for pilots. Their place in the company pecking order decides what planes they can fly, what routes they'll take, and when they can go on vacation.
Northwest Airlines Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. hoped their pilots would agree on seniority before announcing plans to join forces earlier this week. But Northwest pilots refused to go along and the companies moved ahead without a pilot agreement.
At US Airways, pilots have failed to reach a joint contract after three years of trying. Pilot leaders said yesterday's election would do little to ease tensions with management.
"It's going to be extremely difficult for me personally and professionally to watch what happens to this pilot group now," Captain Jack Stephan, a chairman of the ousted union, said. "Industry consolidation is inevitable, and the economy is slowing. I believe that these challenges will be too much to ask of an untested, underfunded union."
Captain Scott Theuer, a US Airline Pilots Association spokesman, said the union's first order of business is to get representatives in place.