ExpressJet Mechanics Seek Raises Above 2008 Levels

The tension between the need to recruit more aircraft mechanics and pressure to keep labor costs low for competitive reasons seems to be strongest in two sectors that already have low pay: independent shops and regional airlines. This tension has been building at ExpressJet, which feeds and is 49% owned by United Airlines.

ExpressJet mechanics have just finished a week of informational picketing in Cleveland, Houston, Newark, Chicago and Alcoa, Tennessee. The picket was geared towards informing the flying public of ongoing negotiations with the company.

Teamster airline director David Bourne says low pay is causing ExpressJet mechanics to leave, often to take higher-paying jobs at other airlines.

Teamster spokesperson Kara Deniz says the problem started in 2008, the year of the financial crisis, when mechanics gave up wages to help ExpressJet avoid bankruptcy. “After ten years of negotiations, the company finally agreed to a one-year deal that restored wages to their 2008 levels at the end of 2017,” Deniz says. “So these mechanics are still working at 2008 pay levels.”

Deniz says the airline’s top rate for mechanics is $29.09 per hour. For mainline carriers, she puts average top pay at $50.00. The best-paying regional airlines pay $35, $34 and $33 per hour at the top of the scale. Furthermore, “ExpressJet has the lowest starting pay in the industry.”

The airline is willing to pay more, but at a price. “The company wants to take away their non-contributory 401K pension and use that money to fund raises,” Deniz says. “Regionals are having trouble attracting and retaining mechanics. Regional mechanics have the same A&P license as at the majors, and are leaving the regionals for more lucrative employment at majors and in other industries.”

The Teamsters have asked the National Mediation Board to intervene. But the Board has not provided any dates for airline-union discussions in 2020 yet.

ExpressJet operates 117 Embraer E175s and ERJ145s. The carrier declined to comment on its dispute with the Teamsters mechanics.