A New Year’s Message from ALPA President Capt. John Prater

The following is a New Year’s Message from ALPA President Capt. John Prater.

Who among us can deny that 2009 was a landmark year? Like most years since 2001, our industry had its share of significant successes, difficult challenges, and unfortunate disappointments.

The difference is—as we look ahead into 2010, putting a decade of the 21st century behind us—we are able to build on the newfound optimism that began in 2009 with a new White House and a discernible uptick in the economy.

This, my brothers and sisters, is not an optimism built on rhetoric alone. The significant events of 2009 are a direct manifestation of what can happen when dealing with a government that is no longer one threatened by, but actively engaged in searching for solutions with Union leaders. Also it is an optimism that can be tracked by our growing union and documented by the trend of improved contract signings.
I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how the leadership of our pilots led to many accomplishments of the 12 months gone by—all of which are tied to this union’s strategic plan, developed just 14 months ago by ALPA’s Board of Directors. A sampling of the issues we covered: gains in collective bargaining, fighting fatigue, and the importance of organizing airline pilots into ALPA.

Following the 2008 decisions by the pilots from Wasaya, CommutAir, and Colgan, we welcomed three more pilot groups into the ALPA family in 2009: we started with a successful merger with the pilots of AirTran, and we ended the year on a strong note with overwhelming votes for ALPA representation by the crewmembers at Air Transport Int’l., and North American Airlines. And we will not slow our pace in 2010 as we continue our strategic initiative to organize airline pilots—to reach the goal of one day representing all North American airline pilots.

Sadly, one of the most heartbreaking tragedies of the year was the decimation and sale of Midwest. But, as part of a true union family, several pilot groups convinced their managements to offer our Midwest pilots preferential hiring. And ALPA is providing full support to the Custodian representatives at Midwest to continue their fight for seniority integration and jobs alongside the Republic, Frontier and Lynx pilots, all who are represented by different unions.

With ALPA’s deep experience and resources available to them, and in spite of the worst economic climate this industry has seen since the 1930s, several of our pilot groups stood firm against management and successfully negotiated favorable contracts that gave our pilots what they rightly have earned: quality-of-life improvements and an acknowledgement of their considerable work in making their companies a success. Island Air, Kelowna, and Alaska all approved agreements that take this profession in the right direction. Hawaiian ended the year with a tentative agreement, which will soon go out to their membership for a vote, continuing the upward trend for pilot contracts.

In January, the Delta and NWA MECs were merged into a single MEC and now represent the largest pilot group in the world. These ALPA Representatives have methodically and successfully worked their way through the myriad of issues that came with merging two great airlines both with long ALPA histories and tremendously dedicated volunteers. The challenges ranged from merging corporate and MEC cultures to resolving outstanding grievances, to implementation of a single seniority list and a single contract and soon a single operating certificate, were certainly large, but each and every issue and problem was best solved by ALPA representatives working diligently to define the matter followed by collective and democratic decisions.

Six of our pilot groups’ negotiations are in mediation with the NMB, with a couple proffers filed and one in Canada entering conciliation. This new NMB means business, which means that our pilots can finally make progress after years of stalling tactics by some of our airline managers. Continental’s contract just passed the one year mark since becoming amendable and United’s contract comes due now. I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to secure the contracts that our pilots deserve in 2010, and as nearly half of our membership is in contract negotiations, I think it’s an enormous opportunity for our pilots to climb the negotiations ladder for positive gains. As always, I know I can count on each of our pilot groups to be ready and willing to assist our SPSC in support of other ALPA members. You may expect that call to come early in the New Year.

Together, we’ve risen to the many challenges that faced us this year. Our union turned high-profile accidents and incidents that shook our industry to the core into a platform for positive change. Our pilot leaders highlighted the issues that our members face day-in and day-out from every angle: fatigue, training, antiquated rules, and low pay to improving security procedures. Our stories captured the world’s attention, and ALPA will not rest until we see our governments take action.

It’s high time that this industry brings the flight-time/duty-time rule into the reality of today. I’ve testified more than half a dozen times on safety issues and met with every high-ranking official in our regulatory systems. Every airline pilot deserves one rule that’s based on proven science and one that is applicable to all airlines regardless of airplane size or payload. In the U.S. and in Canada, these antiquated rules are teetering on the cusp of change, and this time, we will emerge with new regulations.

But it wasn’t just the FTDT battle this year. We also stopped unfavorable language in various pieces of legislation like CVR monitoring and cockpit video cameras while securing funding for programs like HIMS that keep pilots flying the line. We successfully lobbied to get the Family Medical Leave Act amended to include pilots, so that they can take care of themselves and their families. We defended the Safety Management Systems in Canada, which leads the industry in a proactive approach to aviation safety.

And that is just a tip of the iceberg. If you haven’t already seen the October issue of Air Line Pilot, please take a moment to read it. It will give you a progress update on what your union has done to achieve and propel the initiatives of our strategic plan. And look for the January issue that will highlight each of our pilot groups at ALPA’s 37 airlines. I know there is still much work to be done at each airline and for our profession, but I also believe that you should be proud of how your efforts in leading your union and your pilots is demonstrating ALPA’s ultimate goal of being the voice for all airline pilots.

On the brink of the commemoration of a New Year, it is my hope that you, too, will reflect on the positive gains we made in 2009, and recommit to do your part to make 2010 more noteworthy than the year gone by. The opportunity is certainly there, and this union will seize every moment. I will close with the immortal words of Mother Jones to other Union Leaders—“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

I know our Union has plenty of fights ahead of us and just as convinced that our leaders and members have plenty of fight in us. From advocating for legislation to protect our jobs from being outsourced in joint ventures, changing the RLA and bankruptcy laws to the collective efforts of Joint Standing Committees and the Fee For Departure group, or the yeoman effort to find new jobs and care for our furloughed members and our men and women serving in the Armed Forces of our two nations—as ALPA Leaders these are just a few of the initiatives you have set for our Union.

Please enjoy the holiday season with your friends and family, and thanks again for your time, effort, and dedication to ALPA. Together, We Are ALPA, the largest airline pilots union in the world.

Happy New Year.