Image: Spirit Airlines
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images file
Pilots of Spirit Airlines have set a strike deadline of June 12. The pilots' union and management have been in negotiations for more than three years.
updated 5/12/2010 4:09:02 PM ET 2010-05-12T20:09:02

Pilots for Spirit Airlines say they will strike on June 12 if they don't get a new contract with the discount carrier.

The declaration Wednesday came after the pilots' union turned down binding arbitration to settle the dispute, setting in motion a 30-day countdown to the moment when pilots could legally strike under federal law.

Union head Sean Creed said his group hoped the deadline would force management to settle, "but make no mistake, without a contract on June 12, Spirit pilots will strike."

The company said it is still working to negotiate a contract. But it also warned that it could start notifying employees of possible job reductions.

The National Mediation Board released Spirit and the Air Line Pilots Association from negotiations, which begins a 30-day "cooling-off" period, after which the union can strike or the company can lock out workers.

The Florida-based airline said it planned to continue operating normally.

Spirit said in a statement that it wants a contract "that effectively ensures the long-term stability and growth of the company, as well as providing for rewarding and stable careers for our pilots and co-workers who do a great job for the company."

The pilots' union said management had declined to give its members contract terms similar to those at other low-cost airlines.

Video: Spirit CEO defends carry-on fees The two sides have been in negotiations for more than three years. The union has said little or no progress was made and that the company was profitable but demanded that workers take big cuts in benefits.

Federal law makes it difficult for airline workers to strike, and President Barack Obama could block or end a pilots' walkout at Spirit, as President Bill Clinton did at American Airlines in 1997.

Strikes are rare in the aviation industry. The last one, in 2009, involved pilots at Florida cargo carrier Amerijet International and lasted 17 days.

The last strike at a major carrier occurred in 2005 at Northwest Airlines. Mechanics walked off the job in 2005 after the company sought deep pay cuts to avoid bankruptcy, but the tactic backfired when Northwest replaced them with new workers and union members who crossed picket lines.

Spirit dubs itself an ultra low-cost carrier. It operates about 150 daily flights in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The company attracted notice recently when it announced that beginning Aug. 1 it would charge passengers up to $45 for carry-on bags. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the fees outrageous.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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