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INDIANAPOLIS - Pilots who fly Republic Airways say they will picket the Indianapolis company's shareholder meeting Thursday because of their pay.
They fly hundreds of tons of steel through the air, multi-million dollar machines carrying thousands of people a day, and yet many of the pilots say they're stuck with entry-level salaries.
"We have five-year first officers making $30,000 a year," said Captain Pat Gannon, a Republic Airways pilot.
Their planes carry the logos of the major airlines - like Delta and United - but they're operated by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways, contracted to run connecting flights. Pilots say Republic Airways used to be a small airline, where pilots paid their dues for a few years before moving on to a bigger airline, so when they negotiated their labor contract in 2003, they agreed to starting salaries.
"Without having that stepping stone to move on to the larger airlines, a lot of us got stuck," said Gannon.
They say many pilots have not been able to move on to bigger airlines because those job opportunities have dried up. The airline industry has struggled since 9/11.
"It's no longer a stepping stone, so we're unwilling to work for substandard wages and work rules," Gannon said.
The pilots say, since 9/11, smaller planes have been contracted out more and more by major airlines, who are looking to save money.
"Obviously, if you have 75 people on the plane, you don't need a larger airplane. Larger airplanes burn more gas," said Gannon.
The result, pilots say, is Republic Airways is now operating more flights, making more money, but their pilots are making half - if not a third - of what they'd make at a competing airline.
"We get paid only when the door is closed and the parking brake is released," Gannon said.
They say when passengers are boarding or the plane is taxied for hours or the flight is canceled, pilots are considered off the clock.
"So we'll work a 14-hour duty day and only get paid for three hours," Gannon said.
Pilots say that problem could be fixed with smarter scheduling, something they're also trying to negotiate in their labor contract. Eyewitness News went to Republic Airways' corporate office to find out why an agreement has not been reached after four years of negotiations, but they wouldn't talk.
The pilots' union says they've had to bring in a mediator to push the process forward. Mediation began today, but pilots are prohibited from striking right away, because of the Railway Labor Act. They say if the company refuses to negotiate, these pilots could go on strike, grounding thousands of flights in the future.