Frontier Airlines pilots voted unanimously today to take the first step toward authorizing a strike — a work stoppage that could have significant reverberations for a Denver-based airline in the midst of a large national expansion and is preparing for a public stock offering.
Represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, the Frontier pilots voted to authorize their elected union representatives to walk off the job if contract talks don’t result in a new collective-bargaining agreement.
Before doing that, the union must get a ruling from the National Mediation Boardthat further mediation efforts must not be productive, must decline arbitration or have the airline reject that option, and then go through a “cooling ff” period of 30 days — meaning that any strike likely is still months away or may not happen at all, according to Frontier executives.
Frontier pilots six years ago made arguably the key move in keeping the Denver-headquartered airline from falling into a potentially company-dissolving bankruptcy, voting to purchase an equity stake in the airline from then-owner Republic Airways Holdings Inc. in exchange for deferral of pay raises and cuts to their benefits.
Republic sold Frontier in 2013 to Indigo Partners LLC, a private-equity firm that changed it into an ultra-low-cost carrier that charges reduced fares but requires customers to pay for formerly free add-ons like carry-on luggage and seat selection.
Pilots began new contract talks with Frontier in March 2016 and began working with an NMB mediator in October, arguing that pay boosts are needed because they are the lowest-paid Airbus pilots in North America. Meanwhile, Frontier reported three straight years of profitability as it drew new fliers in new cities to its low-cost model.
Contract negotiations deteriorated significantly earlier this month, when an arbitrator found Frontier guilty of bad-faith bargaining after it went back on a promise to increase pilot pay if Frontier met profit-margin goals, according to union leaders.
The company instead paid $273 million in shareholder dividends and management bonuses in 2016 and 2017, leading pilots to express “deep anger” toward the company, a top union leader and Frontier pilot said.