In May 2017, Alaska Airlines pilots picket outside Seattle–Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Wash., for a market-rate contract.
The lengthy process of merging the Alaska Airlines pilots and the former Virgin America pilots has been completed. On Oct. 11, 2018, a three-member arbitration panel rendered a decision on the integrated pilot seniority list, combining the two former groups into one that is now nearly 3,000 pilots strong.
This paved the way for a special Master Executive Council (MEC) meeting on December 17 to elect MEC officers, including separate positions for MEC secretary and MEC treasurer. Additionally, for the first time in its history, the pilot group—based on size alone—became eligible to have one of its members hold the position of ALPA executive vice president (EVP). Capt. Joe Youngerman, who’s been an airline pilot for more than 30 years, was elected a Group A EVP by acclamation during ALPA’s Board of Directors meeting held in Washington, D.C., in October.
Merging two pilot groups has been a major undertaking. Both the Alaska MEC and Virgin America MEC have worked diligently and in solidarity to emerge as a new group to overcome the threats and challenges it will face in the future, including Contract 2020 negotiations.
Alaska’s management had stated that it intended the merger of the two airlines and pilot groups to set the gold standard for smooth and effective consolidation. But in fact, the process of negotiating a transition and process agreement consumed eight months and limited to just three the number of items the pilots could negotiate in their joint collective bargaining agreement. During direct and mediated negotiations, management failed to make proposals that recognized the improving industry dynamic regarding pilot contracts. Instead, it contended that the pilots should be satisfied working under a contract that offered compensation lower than that of their industry peers flying similar aircraft. Negotiations took 10 months and were ultimately settled by an arbitration panel.
Capt. Will McQuillen, the pilots’ newly elected MEC chair, said, “Sadly, everything we’ve witnessed from management, especially during the joint collective bargaining agreement negotiations, leads us to believe it will be unwilling to make any substantive improvements to our collective bargaining agreement unless forced to do so.”
The new Alaska pilot group is preparing for upcoming negotiations and has turned its attention to the contract’s amendable date of April 1, 2020. No arbitration clause will apply to these negotiations, as the normal Section 6 process of the Railway Labor Act will govern the bargaining process.
“Looking at what’s been accomplished related to this merger, I’m proud to say that our pilots have succeeded where management has failed,” observed McQuillen. “We’ve set the gold standard for creating solidarity within a combined pilot group, and we’ll be ready to negotiate with the full force our unity provides.”
In January, the newly formed MEC will began establishing its committee structure and continues the work started to safeguard its pilots’ future by, among other things, preparing to achieve gains in the next contract negotiations.