In January 2020, the FedEx Express Master Executive Council (MEC) first informed its pilots of an outbreak in China of a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus—now known as COVID-19. At that time, little was known about COVID-19, and the situation evolved rapidly, impacting the airline industry particularly hard. With a pilot base in Hong Kong and many pilots transiting this part of the world, the MEC quickly established a multidisciplinary team to address the outbreak and the well-being of FedEx pilots impacted by the virus.
MEC leaders met with management regarding protective measures being taken to safeguard FedEx pilots’ health and safety. Through submissions of the union’s Pilot Data Reports, the pilots began engaging MEC officers and representatives. These reports provided a firsthand account of the situation as it was evolving throughout China. The MEC’s Negotiating Committee began engaging management and presented a proposal that addressed flying in China. After concentrated bargaining over four days, the Negotiating Committee presented the China Flying Ongoing Implementation Measures (OIM) agreement to the MEC. This agreement allowed FedEx pilots to make the best decisions for their families while the company continued its China operations.
The agreement was the first of its kind within ALPA and was approved unanimously by the MEC. “This first agreement was a step in the right direction, meant to stabilize a rapidly evolving situation in FedEx’s operation throughout China, the epicenter of the virus,” said Capt. Pat May, the Negotiating Committee chair. It provided the means for pilots to decline flying into mainland China and recognized the added risk involved in operating in that environment with additional pay based on the arrival or layover sequence. It also provided an initial foundation of pay protection for pilots who were diagnosed with the virus and others who were quarantined. However, with COVID continuing to grow and the crisis soon being deemed a pandemic, the MEC was just beginning to see the impact it would have on its pilots and its operation.
As the global impact of COVID-19 continued to grow, management was forced to reevaluate operations. At the MEC’s direction, the Negotiating Committee’s continuing engagement with management turned to focusing on addressing issues involving positioning pilots for work in light of ever-changing government restrictions, which were further complicated by limited or no commercial travel options. In early April, the MEC approved a new agreement, the COVID-19 Mitigating Travel Measures Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), addressing those issues.
The MEC and Negotiating Committee’s efforts then turned, with the experience of the impact the virus was having, on building on the initial foundation of the “medical portion” of the initial China Flying OIM. A new COVID-19 Medical Measures MOU was reached and approved by the MEC in early May. This agreement reflected the challenges and contributions pilots faced as essential workers—staying healthy while operating globally under the guidelines of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FAA’s Safety Alert for Operators.
With each new agreement, the MEC’s motivation was to produce an agreement that under adverse circumstances prioritized pilots’ health and safety, ensured pilots had reliable trips, provided financial protection, and minimized any roadblocks that may delay or hinder a pilot’s ability to get to and from work.
In June, Capt. Dave Chase transitioned from his role as MEC vice chair to MEC chair, and Capt. Bill Hubbell later joined the officer team as the new vice chair.
“As we entered 2020, we viewed the year as a continuation of our long-range plan to prepare for 2021 bargaining,” said Chase. “A significant part of that preparation involved building and training our leadership and committee structure. Little did we know how challenged we would be. The Negotiating Committee was forced to negotiate three separate COVID agreements while preparing for 2021 bargaining. The Safety Team was forced to respond to an accident at Los Angeles International Airport while working on COVID issues. The fact that we’re getting through this is a testament to the team that had already been built and trained. It bodes well for the bargaining ahead.”