WASHINGTON — Unionized workers with Air Wisconsin are scheduled to vote Thursday on a tentative contract. The Transportation Workers Union expects the contract for 28 dispatchers to win approval, averting a potential strike that could have grounded American Airlines flights in the Midwest and East Coast beginning next month. 

“You take all the dispatchers out of the equation, you can't fly at all,” said Gary Peterson, the executive director to the international president for the Transport Workers Union. 

Peterson helped to finalize the deal, which will provide an average raise of 22%. The dispatchers’ old contract ended four years ago. They were being paid at 2020 levels. 

“We weren't asking to be put above everybody in the regional industry,” Peterson said. “We're asking to be on par with what they're doing at American [Airlines] already.” 

What You Need To Know

  • 28 unionized workers for Air Wisconsin have reached a tentative contract

  • The regional carrier is based in Appleton and provides flights for American Airlines, carrying almost six million passengers a year from Wisconsin and major Midwest and East Coast hubs like Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia International

  • The union is crediting the transportation secretary for assisting in the negotiations

  • The workers will vote on the deal Thursday

Peterson said the dispatchers will now be paid the same rate as those who work for Piedmont, an American Airlines subsidiary.

“They don't pay the same as the American dispatchers by any means,” Peterson said. “But they have different rates for them. So we were very fair and transparent in how we approached it.” 

Air Wisconsin could not be reached for comment. Peterson said there was a shift in the negotiations after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg picked up the phone.

“I'm glad he was there listening, paying attention and did get involved,” Peterson said. “And I have to think that to some degree, you know, he does get credit. We'd be foolish not to think that.” 

A Department of Transportation spokesperson told Spectrum News in a statement, “Aviation workers like the dispatchers at Air Wisconsin went through serious hardships during the pandemic and have played a vital role in our economic recovery. They stood together and fought for a well-earned pay raise and a better deal.”

John Heywood, a labor expert and distinguished professor of economics at UW-Milwaukee, said there’s tension between the regional and major airline carriers, since both do the same job but for vastly different pay. 

“From a union point of view, you'd like to have similar workers doing similar work be paid the same,” said Heywood. “And yet the dynamics of this industry is that the majors look to the regionals, in part because of cheaper cost and greater flexibility.” 

Michael Vogt, an Appleton-based representative for Transport Workers Union Local 592, told Spectrum News the contract negotiations achieved benefit improvements that “Air Wisconsin Dispatchers have long deserved."

"The TWU fought hard to win these gains and our group is more unified as a result," Vogt added.

The dispatchers had threatened to strike over the Memorial Day weekend, one of the busiest travel periods of the year. If the contract is ratified as expected, no disruptions would take place. 

Follow Charlotte Scott on Facebook and X.