Teamsters sue Republic Airways over bonuses for new pilots

Unions say that low pay is creating a pilot shortage at regional airlines, but the Teamsters are taking the unusual step of suing an airline for giving more money to pilots it represents.

Republic Airlines and Shuttle America have been paying their 2,200 pilots premiums for working on their off days and offering signing bonuses of up to $12,500 for new hires. Starting pay is around $22,000 a year.

The Teamsters sued Republic, Shuttle America and parent Republic Airways Holdings Inc. last week in federal district court in Indianapolis. The union, which has been negotiating for a new contract since 2007, said the extra pay undercuts its bargaining position.

Labor and legal experts said it was rare, if not unprecedented, for a union to oppose an airline giving more money to its members.

Indianapolis-based Republic said Tuesday that the lawsuit was without merit and just an attempt to pressure the company during negotiations.

The lawsuit is a sign of the stress in the regional-airline industry, where companies like Republic that operate flights for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express are struggling to fill cockpit seats. Last year, Republic grounded 27 planes because it lacked pilots to fly them.

Such shortages could affect service to the smaller airports that are served by regional carriers.

Republic shares fell 1.8 percent Tuesday, closing at $9.13 each.

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