United Airlines announced Wednesday that it filed a lawsuit against its pilots' union for encouraging pilots to call in sick and refusing to work additional hours.
United alleges that the union is nudging pilots to take the actions to resist the carrier's plans to lay off workers and cut flights in response to spiraling costs.
The airlines say fuel prices are too much to bear, so they are scaling back operations. Earlier this month, United said it will reduce its workforce by 7,000 people, more than initially announced, by the end of 2009. United said it would get rid of nearly 1,000 of its pilots as part of that effort.
Today, United said the alleged jump in sick leave forced the cancelation of 329 flights from July 19 to July 27, stranding 36,000 passengers. According to a statement from the airline, United is asking a federal court to stop the Air Line Pilots Association "from continuing to engage in deliberate, organized and unlawful job actions that resulted in hundreds of flights being canceled and impacted thousands of customers and employees."
The United Chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association said Wednesday the union's attorneys were reviewing the complaint.
"ALPA cannot comment on the pending litigation at this time until our attorneys have had the opportunity to review it," said United Master Executive Council Chairman Captain Steve Wallach. "A UAL press release issued today, however, concerning the lawsuit contained inaccurate and alarmingly misleading information. The United MEC believes this is not a constructive approach to labor relations."
The ALPA represents nearly 55,000 pilots at 40 U.S. and Canadian airlines.
One long-time United pilot told ABC News on Wednesday that "the company is grasping at straws." He said going to work in the current industry climate was depressing and added, "I would be sick if I was going to be furloughed."
United's Pete McDonald, chief administrative officer, said the carrier pursued other ways to remedy the situation before taking legal action.
Still, facing an insecure industry outlook, United is not the only carrier that appears to be facing strained relationships with some of its pilots.
Earlier this month, USAirways pilots took out a newspaper ad claiming the airline was pressuring them to skimp on fuel.
The ad warned that "USAirways management has recently begun pressuring your Captain to reduce fuel loads for your flight in order to save money."
USAirways strongly denied that the reduction in fuel would endanger safety.