MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Pilots from other major airlines showed their support as pilots from Sun Country held informational picketing at Terminal 2 of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

After five years of back and forth bargaining, Sun Country and its 250 unionized pilots are still without a new contract. It appears the biggest stumbling block remains wage disparity with other comparable pilots.

Sun Country pilots say they’re paid 30 percent less than the industry’s average salary for Boeing 737 pilots.

The Mendota Heights-based carrier has endured six ownership changes, the Tom Petters debacle and two bankruptcies.

But following the most recent bankruptcy, resulting from Petters’s collapse, the 2011 sale to Minnesota’s Davis family promised Sun Country’s passengers and pilots a fresh start.

Now, four years later, the pilots are still waiting for a contract. In an effort to garner the attention of the customers, large numbers of pilots marched in an informational picket line outside the airport.

A spokesperson with the Airline Pilots Association representing Sun Country said pilots there haven’t had a meaningful pay raise since 2005. Furthermore, many of them accepted 50 percent pay cuts to help the company through bankruptcy.

“We understand we’re not Delta, we’re not United,” 737 captain Jake Yockers said. “Our goal is, over the lifetime of our contract, to get up to what the average pay is for the type of aircraft that we fly. Our plan does that; theirs keeps us at the bottom.”

Sun Country pilots said they want to reach an industry average over a five-year term once a new contract is ratified.

“Since Sun Country has been under new ownership, it’s been profitable every year, it has doubled in size, added new cities and is moving into a new headquarters,” Yockers said.

Sun Country released a statement Friday saying that, earlier this month, the company offered pilots a contract that would increase their pay by a total of 20 percent over five years, on top of existing pay hike structures.

“Sun Country pilots who have been with the company beyond one year earned between $50,000 and $230,000 on an annual basis in 2014,” the company said in the statement.

Despite pilots authorizing a strike back in February, the two sides may go back to the bargaining table to compare economic packages.

A labor stoppage is absolutely the last resort and would only come if a federal mediator releases the parties from negotiations. Even if that were to happen, a 30-day cooling off period would follow any breakdown.

“That’s not the goal here,” Yockers said. “The goal here is to get a deal. We want to negotiate.”

A federal mediator is expected to bring the two parties back to the table in the coming weeks.

Bill Hudson

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