Cover Story: Airline versus pilots

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The legal battle between US Airways and its own pilots.

It's now up to a judge to decide whether the guys who fly the planes are intentionally making you late.

US Airways is suing its own pilots union.  Testimony wrapped up Monday in federal court.

The airline says pilots are participating in a work slowdown that violates federal labor law.

Pilots say they're not doing anything wrong.  They're just trying to keep you safe.

US Airways claims union pilots are trying to slow down the airline - gumming up the operations by deliberately taxiing slowly to and from the gate, writing up unnecessary maintenance issues and calling in sick.

Charlotte is US Airways largest hub.

US Airways says the union is trying to gain the upper hand in contract negotiations that have been dragging on for years.

Pilots say the accusations are without merit.  They are just raising legitimate safety concerns.

US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr says, "What we're talking about here is a safety campaign that is very thinly veiled illegal job action.  So that's why we're here in court today."

The airline is governed by an 1920s federal law known as the Railway Labor Act.  It prohibits workers from taking any kind of job action like a slowdown or strike while contract talks are going on until a government mediator declares an impasse.

Both sides are currently under federal mediation.

"What we have seen is an increase in taxi times and also some excessive maintenance writeups," says Mohr.

Since May, the airline alleges, flights in US Airways' east coast operations arriving on time have declined 11-percent (after controlling for weather and other factors.)

The number of mishandled bags (bags that don't make it to connect flights) among US Airways east coast operations has increased by more than 45-percent for every 1,000 passengers.

The airline bolsters its argument saying its operations in the west remain normal.

An attorney for USAPA, the pilots union says there can be many reasons for the discrepancy.

Monday in federal court both sides wrapped up their cases.  U.S. Chief District Court Judge Bob Conrad didn't indicate when he would make a decision.

"We have a lot of faith in Judge Conrad. We think that he gave us a fair hearing and whatever this court tells me to do you can bet that I'll be doing it," said US Airline Pilots Association President Michael Cleary.

Pilots union officials say they have abided by the law all along.

The union says when the airline informed them about the slowdown, they brought it to their members attention and denounced it.

They say the issue is not about a slowdown.  It's about pilots' desire to be safe.

US Airways says it's asking the court to protect its customers and employees from any further illegal job actions designed to harm the airline.

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