Alaska Pilots
Capt. Mark Skibinski in Kodiak, Alaska.

For most of 2016, the Alaska Airlines pilots have found themselves walking a path that many other ALPA pilots have tread before—a merger with another airline. In April, Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, announced that it was acquiring Virgin America and that management intended to merge Alaska Airlines and Virgin America.

The Alaska Master Executive Council (MEC) began preparing for the possibility of a merger in 2011, when it wrote and adopted the first version of the current strategic plan. One of the seven goals in that plan was to “prepare for the future,” including tasking the MEC’s Merger Committee with studying past mergers so that it could identify best practices. As a result of its strategic plan, the MEC built up its merger fund and retained merger counsel. It also negotiated job-security provisions into the contract ratified in 2013 that included protections in the event of a merger or acquisition.

Three years later when the MEC updated its strategic plan, it retained the goal of preparing for the future, again recognizing that consolidation occurring around the industry meant that mergers and acquisitions remained a possibility for the Alaska pilot group.

“While you’re never fully prepared for the uncertainty created by a merger, we were as prepared as we possibly could have been when Alaska announced that it was buying Virgin America and that we would be merging,” said Capt. Chris Notaro, the pilots’ MEC chairman.

One of the first steps following the merger announcement was for the MECs to reach out to one another and begin talking. Since then, the Alaska and Virgin America pilot leaders have continued to work collaboratively—using ALPA merger policy as a guideline—to make this merger as successful as possible for the pilots.

This work has included identifying goals and strategies to negotiating a joint collective bargaining agreement that maximizes gains.

In December, the Alaska and Virgin America MECs reached agreement on a transition and process agreement that, among other things, outlines a protocol and process for negotiating a joint collective bargaining agreement. As a result of the transition and process agreement, negotiations for a joint contract began on January 23.

“Our focus right now is on negotiating a joint collective bargaining agreement that includes significant improvements in key areas for the combined pilot group,” Notaro said. “The MECs provided that strategy and direction to our Joint Negotiating Committee based on input from phone polls, online surveys, direct feedback from our pilot group, an analysis of what is occurring with the industry and economy and with other pilot contracts, and looking at examples provided by other pilot mergers.”

While the path to reaching a transition and process agreement and entering joint contract negotiations took longer than the pilots expected, the Alaska pilots remain ready to face the tasks associated with the merger head-on and committed to the Alaska MEC’s goals and objectives of improving and protecting the wages, benefits, work rules, and job security of all Alaska Airlines pilots past, present, and future.

“This year will continue to usher in change for us, as a pilot group and for our airline,” said Notaro. “But I have every confidence that this pilot group will be resolute and united in pursuit of our goals and a contract that places our combined group on par with our industry peers. Our preparation and unity will be the keys to our success.”