Alaska Pilots
In summer 2021, the Master Executive Council conducted the Alaska Pilots West Coast Cookout Tour to update pilots and their families on contract negotiations and solicit input from them. (Photo: F/O Drew Coyle [Alaska Airlines])

On behalf of Alaska Airlines pilots, the Master Executive Council (MEC) initiated negotiations with the company in spring 2019, well before the current collective bargaining agreement became amendable on April 1, 2020. The pilot group prioritized scope and quality-of-life issues as needing significant improvement this contract cycle. Despite the MEC’s early start and other efforts, management hasn’t shown sufficient willingness to address the pilots’ concerns.

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 complicated matters, and the MEC quickly jumped into action to prevent furloughs, just as many other ALPA pilot groups did. The MEC proposed alternatives resulting in an extended incentive line (EIL) program, which saved jobs and money and allowed the company to recover more quickly. These solutions were possible due to the pilots’ efforts, and the full value of the EIL program is seen today. The company’s ability to recall pilots is working as designed, enabling it to take advantage of the recovery in ways that wouldn’t have been possible under a traditional furlough. The EIL program will hopefully become the new industry standard to avoid pilot reductions.

During the pandemic, the MEC was also involved in preventing the closure of the company’s San Francisco, Calif., base. An exhaustive analysis provided by ALPA’s Economic & Financial Analysis Department and the MEC’s Membership Committee helped convince management that plans to close the base would be detrimental to operations. Keeping the base open avoided significant disruption to the lives of pilots based there and the systemwide displacements that follow a base closure.

In early spring 2021, the company and the MEC continued their focus on Section 6 items. By September, however, it was clear to the MEC’s Negotiating Committee that talks weren’t progressing. To move things forward, the MEC suggested to management that the parties engage with a private mediator. After three days of mediated talks, management remained entrenched in its subindustry positions, and private mediation ended. Then, instead of engaging meaningfully back at the bargaining table, the company applied for assistance with the National Mediation Board (NMB). In mid-December the MEC’s Negotiating Committee and management met for an initial session with the NMB’s mediator, and the parties continue mediated negotiations in early 2022.

Over the course of the last few years, the MEC has noticed that when negotiations centered around areas of great concern to the company, needing help with its issues, management was an active partner and more than able to negotiate mutual solutions with the pilot group. Yet, as the pilots seek to have their priorities addressed, management’s partnership efforts have ended. The current state of stalled negotiations has exacerbated the frustration among the pilots since they made significant sacrifices and helped the company stay afloat during the pandemic by retiring early or taking modified leaves.

The result of these selfless actions shouldn’t be that the pilots now must work at a discount and forgo contractual provisions that are common at peer airlines. Whether negotiations occur directly, with a private mediator, or with the assistance of the NMB, the MEC remains steadfast in pressing management to bring acceptable solutions to the table.

As part of its efforts, in late 2021, the MEC launched a campaign reaching out to passengers, company stakeholders, and the community. The aim is to raise public awareness about the pilots’ issues and their problems with the company. Over the last several months of the campaign, pilots have taken their message to many different places, including online and in person by informational leafleting at airports. Through these efforts, the pilots have reached millions of individuals with their messages and are quickly gaining the support of the community, passengers, political representatives, and others.

As this campaign continues to move forward, the pilot group has shown a great amount of support to the MEC, which held family awareness events over the summer, pilot unity-building events, and airport coffee gatherings. The energy and momentum continue to grow. It’s time for the company to do the right thing and value its pilots.