BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — Pilots for Sun Country Airlines haven’t had a meaningful pay increase since 2001. That’s a big reason behind a unanimous vote to authorize a strike if needed.

The company and its 245 pilots have been in federal mediation since 2012 trying to hammer out a new contract, but have been unsuccessful in reaching a deal.

After emerging from bankruptcy, Sun Country began growing and prospering. Today it is Minnesota’s hometown carrier with the international reach.

Sun Country operates some 20 daily scheduled flights to cities across the country, as well as Mexico, the Caribbean and the gulf coast.

“I guess somebody has to be the lowest paid, I just wish it wasn’t Sun Country pilots,” said travel expert Terry Trippler.

He said the lack of a new pilot’s contract at Sun Country is concerning for several reasons. Primarily, it would threaten to disrupt the strong relationship between customers and the airline. Trippler says Sun Country customers are unique in that they have great loyalty to the carrier and its crews.

The good news, Trippler said, is that a strike appears remote.

“This airline is growing,” he said. “So as for a strike? I bet against it, I bet a lot against it.”

But with no meaningful pay increases in the past 10 years, and captain salaries that are just two-thirds of what pilots earn at other airlines, Sun Country pilots are drawing a line in the sand.

Some 209 of the 216 pilots who are eligible to vote gave a resounding 100-percent approval of a strike authorization to union leadership.

Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) spokesperson and Sun Country pilot Capt. Jacob Yockers said the Sun County pilots are the lowest 737 pilots in the country in terms of pay.

Yockers said there’s been progress in mediation, but it’s slow. ALPA and Sun Country negotiators have been in mediation since 2012, without a deal.

But it is important to point out that the unanimous authorization vote to strike would only produce a stoppage if mediation and arbitration fail. Even then, the National Mediation Board would have to release the parties and allow for a 30 day cooling off period.

“We are not even asking for top wages,” Yockers said. “Our goal is, over the lifetime of the contract, to get up to what the average pay is for the type of aircraft we fly.”

Sun Country declined to comment for this story.

What’s important for passengers is how the ongoing labor struggle could affect their spring and summer travel plans.

Trippler said he would absolutely buy a ticket for travel on Sun Country with no expectation of a disruption, adding that he is confident it will be settled.

The two sides are scheduled to return to mediation the week of March 23.

Bill Hudson

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