Let’s take a quick trip back to 1999.
The day I walked into my airline’s training center became my date of hire. After two weeks of basic indoctrination, a month off, ground school and simulator training, I was issued my temporary flight engineer certificate and released to Boeing 727 IOE.
That day in early 2000 became my “longevity” date.
The longevity date is very important to an airline pilot.
If you’re unfamiliar with pilot pay, let me explain a few basics. Most airlines in the United States pay pilots based on equipment, rank/seat and years of service. The pay scale in the contract is formatted as a big grid. A brand new first officer is paid at the first year rate. When reaching his or her first longevity anniversary, the pilot is bumped to second year pay. On the second anniversary, pay bumps to third year pay. At my airline, the hourly rate caps out at twelfth year pay.
The longevity date carries over to other equipment and/or seats. If a 737 first officer on eighth year pay upgrades to captain, he or she is paid at the eighth year captain rate.
I considered it odd that the airline assigned a longevity date different from the date of hire.
Little did I know the adventure my longevity date would take throughout my career.
Longevity stall #1
My airline was in dire turmoil by the time I reached fourth year pay. In the first quarter of 2003, I was furloughed for the first time.
During my furlough, the pilots that remained behind to steer the sinking ship negotiated a few concessionary contracts.
In one of those agreements, they gave up a provision that allowed furloughees to accrue longevity. For every day I remained “on the street,” my longevity date increased by one calendar day. In other words, while on furlough, the time between the current calendar day and my adjusted longevity date remained the same. A significant spread developed between my date of hire and longevity date.
My longevity date stopped ticking upward when I returned in 2006. When I resumed my employment, I was still on fourth year pay.
Longevity stall #2
As you know, I was furloughed a second time in 2009 when my airline decided to downsize the fleet.
When I left, I was frozen at the end of seventh year pay. Once again, every day I was “on the street,” the longevity date ticked up another day.
Less than a year later, the merger was announced.
During the lengthy merger process, the union and company negotiated a joint pilot contract in 2013.
I was still on furlough (by choice) when the contract was released to the public.
The pay rates looked good, but I was shocked to read how the longevity of furloughed pilots would be calculated. Here’s my paraphrased version of the agreement:
- Any pilot with less than five years of service was bumped to five years of longevity. Whether employed a few years or a new-hire when furloughed, the pilot would return on sixth year pay.
- No longevity furlough credit for other pilots until the seniority lists were merged. Once merged, if the next senior pilot from the other airline had more longevity, our longevity would be raised to match it. The company did not want us to have more pay longevity than pilots senior to us.
While I was genuinely happy for the pilots with less than five years, it just did not seem fair to bump that group and credit us nothing. Honestly, I never felt entitled to anything. But, why credit the new-hire furloughees and give nothing to the ones that were hired under the “no furlough clause,” endured 9/11, bankruptcy and two furloughs?
Two years ago, I returned to the airline at the end of seventh year pay and quickly rolled over to the eighth year scale.
When I viewed my employee profile, I shook my head in disbelief when I saw my longevity date listed as May, 2007. However, in this business, it is vital to learn how to “let things go” and move on with the hand you’ve been dealt. I vowed to never dwell on the difference between twelfth (maximum) year pay and the rate they were paying me. In four short years, it would become a moot point.
Making it right
At the end of 2015, we started hearing rumors of a surprising development.
The company and the union sat down at the bargaining table to discuss a two year contract extension. Rather than renegotiate a full contract, the company sought to extend our current one by proposing some improvements in pay and benefits.
One entire section of the agreement was dedicated to furlough longevity.
I couldn’t believe it.
In January, through membership voting, we ratified the extension. In addition to a pay increase and other benefits, here’s what happened to my longevity:
- All furloughees were given credit for all time spent on furlough.
- All returning furloughees will be retroactively paid for the difference in the hourly rate of what (s)he had been earning and what (s)he would have been receiving if it weren’t for that screwy contract language. The retro-pay will be calculated for pilots that returned as early as 2012.
Again, I was shocked.
On the date of signing, I instantly snapped to twelfth year pay and fifteen years of service.
In about a month, I’ll receive a substantial deposit for the difference in pay over the past two years.
On my employee profile, my longevity date has been restored to its original day in January of 2000. It’s a bit nostalgic and little emotional to once again see it on the screen.
Finally, I feel the excitement and optimism about my career that I haven’t felt since September 10, 2001.
May the vicious up-and-down cycle of this industry cease to continue.
Note: This recent agreement made adjustments solely to longevity for pay and vacation accrual calculations. It did NOT change anything related to “seniority” as listed in the arbitrated joint seniority list. Seniority determines eligibility for seat position, bigger equipment and bidding of vacation and monthly schedules. My peers hired in late 1999 remain interspersed among those hired in the spring of 2007 at the other airline. That will not change.
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