(Reuters) - United Continental Holdings Inc said on Friday it has reached an agreement in principle with its pilots union, advancing the carrier's effort to integrate its staff after the 2010 merger creating the company.
The agreement, with the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents pilots at the United and Continental subsidiaries, is subject to approval by union leaders and ratification by rank-and-file pilots once it is finalized.
Terms were not disclosed, but union leaders said in a statement the agreement would help make economic amends to pilots who had made concessions during difficult years for the airline industry.
Captain Jay Pierce, chairman of the ALPA unit for Continental pilots, said the pact would provide gains in pay, work rules, job protection and benefits.
"This can be characterized certainly as an industry-leading agreement in the aggregate," said Dan Swanson, a spokesman for the United pilots group.
Pilots at United and Continental have been working without new contracts since they agreed to concessions in the last decade, during which time United went into bankruptcy and Continental took stringent cost-cutting measures.
In mid-July, the pilots had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike should it be needed.
The pact follows more than two years of negotiating with United Continental for a joint collective bargaining agreement. United bought Continental in a $3.17 billion all-stock deal in 2010, creating the world's largest air carrier.
The pilots agreement "is an important step in creating a single workforce at the company and one of the last key challenges facing management in order to obtain the full benefits of the merger," Ray Neidl, an airline sector analyst with Maxim Group, said in a note to clients on Friday.
There are about 7,000 pilots at United and 5,000 pilots at Continental.
Shares of United Continental eased 0.3 percent to $18.11 in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Bangalore and Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)