If There’s Going to Be Another US Airline Strike, It’ll Probably Be at Allegiant


There’s been a lot of talk about how consolidation will mean the end of the airline strike in the US. After all, these airlines are now so big that a strike at any one of them would be a severely crippling blow to the economy were it to happen. But not all airlines are huge. In fact, Allegiant is relatively small in the scheme of things, and its relationship with its pilots couldn’t be much worse right now. It’s so bad that the union decided to strike (with 98 percent authorization from its voting members) long before it had ever been released be the feds to do so. While the strike was stopped in court, this fight isn’t over. And it’ll probably get uglier.

Allegiant Pilots Fight

Prior to August 2012, Allegiant’s pilots didn’t have a union. Like many non-union airline workgroups, they had an organization called Allegiant Air Pilot Advocacy Group (AAPAG) that worked with management to address pilot needs and concerns, but that was it. In August 2012, Allegiant’s pilots decided they wanted a union, so they elected the Teamsters to represent them. The goal, of course, was better pay and better working conditions.

Once the union was on the property, it was time to enter into negotiations. Here we are more than 2 and a half years later, and things have not gone well, to put it mildly. While the Teamsters did not respond to my request to speak with them, Bloomberg had an extensive interview claiming that almost no progress has been made. I tend to believe that to be the case. In the meantime, things have gone from bad to worse, almost culminating in a strike this past (Easter) weekend.

The rules for airline strikes are pretty clear. In general, airline employees aren’t just allowed to strike (per the Railway Labor Act, which oddly still governs airlines). They have to go through mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB). If the NMB decides that an airline is at an impasse with a union, then it declares a 30-day cooling-off period with the hope that a deal under time pressure can be struck. Once that period is over, then the union can strike. In certain cases, that strike can be stopped with the creation of a Presidential Emergency Board, but only if it threatens “substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree such as to deprive any section of the country of essential transportation service.” That’s not likely to happen with Allegiant.

But what’s really remarkable about this situation with Allegiant is that none of this has occurred. They haven’t been released from mediation, yet the pilots were nearly unanimous in favor of going ahead anyway. The only reason it didn’t happen? A judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking it.

So how is this even possible? Isn’t it illegal for the union to strike? Well it all depends on who you ask.

While negotiations have been going on, Allegiant made some changes to its crew scheduling system. It sounds like this was precipitated by the new federal rules regarding pilot rest which required every airline to make some adjustments. But in the process, Allegiant also switched to a preferential bidding system. Why Allegiant felt this to be the right time to go mess with pilot scheduling, I have no idea. But the pilots were angry, and the union actually sued the airline in November of last year.

So what exactly was the union suing over? That’s the crux of the argument about whether a strike is legal or not. See, the Railway Labor Act requires that the company keep the “status quo” while a new contract is being negotiated, but it was clarified several years ago that the “status quo” provision only applies across the board if there was a previous collective bargaining agreement. Otherwise, it’s murkier.

Allegiant says there was no collective bargaining agreement before, so the airline can make changes until the first contract is negotiated. The pilots say the AAPAG counts as a collective bargaining unit, so the status quo must be kept. Who is right?

Back in July 2014, a judge actually ruled with the pilots, granting a “preliminary injunction motion in part, requiring that Allegiant ‘restore the status quo to the extent set forth in his order.'” That seems like a very strange ruling to me, so it was the main reason I reached out to the union for comment. It’s too bad I didn’t hear back.

Despite that ruling, Allegiant doesn’t appear to have returned to the status quo. (I’m sure it’s just waiting for the wheels of justice to eventually turn in its favor.) And the pilots are downright livid. Why did they pick Easter weekend? Clearly a holiday weekend is a good way to get attention, but it’s also the most obnoxious thing you can do from a customer viewpoint. That shows just how angry they are, I suppose.

The obnoxiousness extends to both sides, however. For example, Allegiant created a website with information about the strike and included a link for travelers to email the Teamsters to tell them how they were going to ruin their holiday plans. More than 1,500 emails were sent in a day. I mean, could this get uglier?

Of course it can. As the strike threat ramped up (on April Fools Day, no less), Allegiant went to court. It was successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order preventing the pilots from striking. Crisis averted… temporarily.

Both sides will be back in court on April 10 to find out how this issue will be resolved. I’m sure fireworks will ensue, but whatever happens, it still won’t address the main issue here.

The main point? This relationship is in really, really bad shape, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope for it to get any better in the near future. If there’s going to be a strike at an airline in the US, Allegiant would seem to be the odds-on favorite.

Now the question is… when? The Teamsters hope it’ll be soon. The airline hopes that no strike can happen until all other options have been exhausted. (Presumably both sides would rather it not get to that point at all.) But no matter what happens with that, the real focus should be on figuring out how to repair this very broken relationship so the public doesn’t have to feel the pain. I’m not feeling optimistic right now.

[Original helmet photo and original nuclear explosion photo via Shutterstock]

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26 comments on “If There’s Going to Be Another US Airline Strike, It’ll Probably Be at Allegiant

  1. Allegiant has treated their employees (not just the pilots) like dirt for a long time, none of what is happening surprises me. Since they fly to popular vacation destinations I would expect a strike sometime this summer when it would put the most pressure on Allegiant.

    1. So if it’s that bad there why not go to another airline? The majors are hiring. Why stay at a place workers aren’t happy?

  2. To people who have never been in a union work place or have little interaction with them, people often presume that wages/insurance/pensions are the primate motivators for discontent, but I would argue that a good chunk of the time it is work rules which seems to be the prime motivator here. Considering the far flung nature and infrequency of Allegiant’s operations, bidding is probably more important than most other airlines due to its impact on how often you are at home and also whether or not you get covered for being stuck in Poughkeepsie for a week.

    More broadly than the details of Allegiant’s bidding system, some people consider the work rule “flexibility” (a euphemism if I ever heard one) as a positive facet of American work places. But I would argue that it creates a situation rife for workplace discontent, as rules either get applied unevenly or not at all, or in some cases favoritism plays itself out. Its the irony that universal rules would probably be a benefit to both worker and management, giving both a clear cut guide for a variety of situations, from time off, to unemployment/layoffs etc.

    1. Reminds me of a discussion with a friend who used to manage logistics employees. (Non-airline)

      He told me you negotiate the contract, then you hang the employees with it.

      FWIW, he also said the only time he had people shooting at him was when he was in negotiations with the Teamsters.

  3. They knew what they were getting when they went to work for an airline like Allegiant. If they wanted better working conditions, they should have taken a job elsewhere.

    1. In weak economies, the race to the bottom really accelerates and an employee’s participation in that is more likely an act of survival than of condoned endorsement.

      People make sacrifices because you can’t support your family with principles, but that doesn’t mean you stop fighting for them.

      If you don’t understand that, you’d do well to recognize the peak of privilege you’re standing upon.

      1. It also ignores the nature of pattern bargaining; there’s a reason why unions often want to consolidate a hold in a specific industry or a set of suppliers. Once you have everyone you can then raise wages across the board. In fact some countries (I can never remember, it may be either Australia or New Zealand) have this sort of idea in place for minimum wages in specific industries, ensuring that for example a welder can never be undercut below a certain hourly wage. A rising sea lifts all boats as they say.

        1. Australia has this system. There is a default system of wage and salary awards by industry. It is possible to have an agreement that is less generous than the standard award but that has to be better than the national minimum standard and be reviewed and published by the Fair Work Commission.

          If anyone is interested they can have a look at the standard award for Pilots:


          and cabin crew:


  4. Should be interesting to see what happens since Allegiant is considered a leisure carriers with 2 or 3 flights a week between cities, so it’s not like it’s a vital link anywhere. The only people who might come to bat for the airline in Washington will be elected officials in states where they have a bigger operation like Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida. But then again those four states have major service from other airlines that a shut down at Allegiant wouldn’t hurt the economy.

  5. what a mess when the unions get involved esp the big ones like the teamster/1199/ and seiu nuts!!!!

  6. This all comes down to the NMB being overworked, underpaid, or just plain useless for its intended purpose – “mediation”. Take your pick.

  7. I don’t know the exact details of the sources of discontent, so I should remain silent. But, I can’t help but think that going into suboptimal circumstances is understood going into the deal for G4 pilots. In exchange, the pilot gets to fly main line aircraft sooner than they otherwise would, as opposed to being stuck flying rj’s indefinitely for even less pay.

  8. Do a little research on Maurice Gallagher, Pres of Allegiant. He is very vocal about being anti union. Making those assertions publically generally gets your company quickly unionized. Gallagher has made his “anti union bed”, now he has to lie in it.
    Allegiant had a good thing going. To have bad employee relations can bring you down. I would not be surprised to see a pilots strike, and a long one. It will be hard to get Gallagher to the table. I would not bet on Allegiant’s stock. It’s off already.

  9. It would be great to better understand what the work rule complaints are. My understanding of Allegiant’s model is that the aircraft departs and returns to its base usually in the same day. It is a simple out and back model. They don’t offer overnight flights (except maybe Hawaii) and aircraft end up parked overnight as a result. This causes utilization to be so low, they can’t justify paying for newer aircraft. This scheduling also enables the crews to return home more often – potentially every night. I struggle to see how this type of scheduling is so unfavorable. What am I missing? And, if it is a scheduling issue, shouldn’t the flight attendants be angry too?

    1. Jamzz – My basic understanding is that the ways lines are built has changed. It used to be that pilots would bid on specific lines. Now they just put their preferences in and the system does its magic. I guess it’s not going very well. This is pretty common in the industry to do it this way, but that doesn’t mean Allegiant is doing it well. If the union had responded to my request, I could have tried to get more info but this is the best I have now.

  10. More on Allegiant and Gallagher. From Wikipedia,

    “Criticism of workers’ right to organize
    Flight attendants at the carrier voted to organize their workgroup under the Transport Workers Union of America in December 2010, citing scheduling concerns among other issues in their work rules and the airline’s pilots elected to vote on whether to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in July 2012.[38] In August 2012, the pilots voted to organize and joined the Teamsters. [39] Allegiant’s chairman and CEO, Maurice J. Gallagher Jr., has been critical of the unionization of airline employees and has stated that “Unionization is one of those things that clogs the arteries and makes you less quick and not as nimble as you need to be on top of your game… In this industry and others that are heavily unionized, you ultimately end up with bankruptcy as the primary driver”

    It’s interesting that Southwest is about 85% unionized. LUV seems to get along with its employees

    Also interesting that Ryanair has an interest in Allegiant. Ryanair is noted for being anti union..

  11. I heard that G4 management forced the pilots to start bidding under a pbs system that leaves much to be desired, hence much of their anger. Also heard there were lawsuits related to this against the vendor and possibly G4.

    1. Far from most pilots’ literal interpretation of the words in use — Preferential Bidding System — PBS often result in poorer constructed lines of flying despite pilots’ seniority, though clearly “preferential” for the companies running them, since they force out synthetic credit and cost at the expense of onerous pairings. And this was BEFORE FAR 117 interpretations which have simply made domestic trips even WORSE, despite the claim of limiting pilot pushing. Go figure, or maybe that was 100% understood by those feigning opposition.

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