As contract negotiations continue, the union representing Alaska Airlines pilots has scheduled a strike-authorization vote for May.

The pilots and the airline have been negotiating terms of a new contract since 2019. Though those negotiations were paused at the onset of the COVID pandemic, they later stalled and are currently the subject of federal mediation.

On Friday, the Air Line Pilots Association announced Alaska pilots would begin receiving ballots for a strike-authorization vote on May 9, and that votes would be tallied after May 25. The vote would allow union leadership to declare a strike.

Before the pilots could walk off the job, though, they would need to receive permission from the National Mediation Board, the federal body that intervenes in deadlocked labor negotiations involving railroads and airlines.

The board would have to determine that negotiations had broken down entirely before a strike could legally occur. Since 1980, 99% of all disputes brought before the board have been settled without a work stoppage.

“Alaska pilots are not looking to strike. We are looking for improvements to our contract in line with the market but that will also allow our company to grow and remain successful and competitive,” Will McQuillen, chairman of the 3,100-member Alaska Airlines pilots union, said in a statement. “However, we are willing to take any lawful steps necessary, including a legal strike.”

Advertising

More

The union contends Alaska has been unwilling to meet its demands regarding scheduling stability, pay and other quality-of-life issues; the airline disputes the claims.

Emphasizing that “a strike in our industry is rare and does not happen quickly,” an Alaska Airlines spokesperson argued that the airline’s most recent contract proposal “represents the largest investment ever made by the company and would increase pay, flexibility and secure jobs.”

“This vote is not uncommon in this stage of negotiations and was expected,” the spokesperson said by email. “The vote will not impact our guests or operation. We remain committed to reaching agreement on a new contract that values our pilots’ contributions.”

The strike-authorization vote is the latest in a series of labor actions meant to increase pressure on Alaska. On April 1, hundreds of Alaska pilots picketed the airline’s hub airports as well as its headquarters at SeaTac.

The union dispute comes as Alaska is attempting to address a labor shortage so acute that it was forced to cancel 2% of its flights — 24 flights a day — this spring. Airline executives continue to tout expansive growth plans that would see it add more than 100 Boeing 737 MAX jets in coming years.