Sun Country pilots authorize call to strike if contract talks fail

Pilots at Sun Country Airlines voted unanimously to authorize their leaders to call a strike if a contract deal can't be reached with the airline.

Captain Jake Yockers, who has worked at the airline for 25 years, said pilots at Sun Country earn well below industry standards, with a base salary for a senior captain starting at about $107,000 and salary for a first-year pilot at just over $29,000.

"We are probably the lowest-paid 737 pilots in the country — we make 62 percent of what a comparable pilot at Delta makes," Yockers said. "These are highly experienced guys. You don't just take somebody off the street and make them a pilot."

The Mendota Heights-based airline and the Air Line Pilots Association have been negotiating a contract since 2010 and working with the National Mediation Board since 2012.

Before a strike can take place, the federal mediation board must declare that mediation efforts have failed and offer arbitration to the parties. If the arbitration offer is declined, there will be a 30-day cooling off period before a labor action, such as a strike or worker lockout, can be taken by either party.

The unanimous vote to authorize a strike involved 209 of 216 eligible employees, the union announced on Wednesday (pdf).

There has never been a strike at the airline.

"We don't want a strike," Yockers said, "but we're trying to emphasize that the pilots are going to do whatever they can legally do to get a fair deal."

Sun Country has been owned by Cambria Holdings since 2011. Although filings with the United States Department of Transportation show that the airline had a net loss of $209.8 million between 1997 and 2010, the airline earned $24.6 million between 2012 and 2014.

Officials with Sun Country Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.