MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s been a long and rocky road, but there’s finally a breakthrough in the protracted contract negotiations between Sun Country Airlines and the Airline Pilots Association members.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement in Washington, D.C. with the help of federal mediators.

Sun Country pilots had used informational pickets at terminals to draw attention to what they call a huge pay disparity with other pilots.

But after five years of back-and-forth talks and mediation, both sides met in the middle on a deal that is endorsed for pilot ratification.

For five years they’ve been at odds as Sun Country and 250 union pilots haggled over both improved pay and benefits, at times both heated and contentious.

“We think it will be ratified,” said Sun Country’s ALPA spokesperson, Cpt. Darin Kluck.

On Thursday, ALPA and Sun Country announced a deal was reached through the help of the Federal Mediation Board.

Claiming that Sun Country pilots were the lowest paid 737 pilots of any airline, 30-percent below comparable pilots, this contract will get them increases in both salaries and benefits. Full details are being withheld until all members have the chance to consider the agreement.

“We were polarized at the time, but the National Mediation Board was able to find middle ground with both Sun Country and ALPA union members,” Kluck said.

As recent as last May, the company threatened a potential shutdown, after pilots rejected Sun Country’s final offer. That rattled both customers and the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which temporarily halted work on the $25 million expansion of Terminal Two, which Sun Country flies out of. Work on the expansion has since resumed after winning assurance from the union that a deal would be reached.

Passenger Jim Clobes said the news of a deal was “great.”

“I hope everyone is happy and everyone wins from it,” he said. “We want to keep it as a Minnesota airport and Minnesota airline and have it work out for everybody.”

Other passengers say the deal will make purchasing fares for future Sun Country flights much less worrisome.

“I hadn’t realized it had gone on quite that long, but yes, it makes me feel very good as a passenger,” said Sun Country flier Kate Sorensen.

In a written statement, Sun Country owner and chairman Marty Davis said that “while the arduous process of two parties coalescing to agreement surrounding labor contracts is emotionally charged and sometimes turbulent, we appreciate the professionalism that our pilots exhibited throughout.”

The five-year deal still needs the approval of all 250 Sun Country pilots. Union leaders are recommending ratification and the vote will take place in October.

Bill Hudson

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