Members of the Trans States Master Executive Council and Negotiating Committee meet with Capt. Brad Caplan (Delta), ALPA’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee member, and Betty Ginsburg, director of ALPA’s Representation Department, for a strategic planning session at ALPA’s Herndon, Va., offices in December 2017.
The pilots of Trans States Airlines welcome the new year by preparing for Section 6 contract negotiations. “A letter of agreement [LOA] in our contract allows us to extend the contract amendable date for two years if the company takes delivery of new Mitsubishi regional jets by August 2018 or signs a capacity purchase agreement with a mainline partner for their use,” said Capt. Neil Butler, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “It’s clear that neither of these deadlines will be met, so we look forward to opening talks sooner rather than later.”
The MEC has been laying the groundwork for the upcoming bargaining sessions, surveying members about their priorities and preferences. The pilot leaders are conducting an extensive education campaign, including a five-part newsletter highlighting the negotiating process and what to expect. In addition, the MEC, the Negotiating Committee, and the Grievance Committee convened late last year to review new and ongoing grievances and negotiations strategies. Bargaining is expected to begin sometime in February 2018.
The MEC Negotiating Committee is well prepared for the upcoming talks, having achieved several recent important improvements. Chief among these were a contract extension signed in 2015 and an LOA for a new preferential bidding system (PBS). The airline purchased the NavBlue PBS and began running live trials with parallel schedule bids for six months to allow the pilots to better understand how the program works. “The pilots soon realized that by using PBS, they could increase the efficiency of their trips and achieve more days off,” said Butler. The PBS LOA also provided significant contractual improvements like a minimum-day guarantee of four hours and 15 minutes.
The pilot group also secured other contractual enhancements such as a fatigue LOA and a new FOQA program. The fatigue LOA ensures that a pilot doesn’t lose flight pay because of a fatigue event and provides protections for junior pilots who have yet to accrue sufficient sick time. Regarding FOQA, the union and management have agreed to share de-identified aggregate information with the FAA so that the agency can identify and address operational risk issues. Both were approved last year.
Change has been the norm at TSA where the pilot group and aircraft fleet have nearly doubled during the last two years. Unfortunately, this transformation has been accompanied by the occasional growing pain. For example, management and the MEC’s negotiators exchanged several proposals but were unable to come to terms on the expansion of the Washington Dulles International Airport base to include nearby Reagan Washington National Airport. Rather than continuing the bargaining process, Trans States acted unilaterally by transforming Washington into a co-domicile last fall. “In addition to management bypassing the MEC, the current contract doesn’t adequately address the unique issues that can arise in a co-domicile situation,” remarked Butler. The MEC is pursuing a grievance to remedy this problem.
Butler commented that the airline has witnessed some recent leadership changes, including the departure of the director of operations, who was a true pilot advocate. He described current labor relations as “a work in progress,” adding that he hopes the environment will improve. Butler noted that the pilot group and the MEC filed a greater number of grievances in the last six months of 2017 than have typically been filed in the past.
Still, Butler pointed to the many good things happening at the carrier, including hiring and fleet expansion. In addition, the pilots and management came to terms on new-hire and retention bonuses in early 2017. Butler remains hopeful that continued growth and a new collective bargaining agreement will bring about more positive change for the pilot group.