Capt. John Costello, left, and F/O Tom O’Connell escort the Boston Red Sox’s 2018 World Series trophy to the team’s spring training.
Last year, the JetBlue pilots were just four months into their first contract—the first collective bargaining agreement ever at JetBlue. Over the past year, contract compliance has been the priority of the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC), as it worked to fully implement the collective bargaining agreement. As a first contract, the agreement had staged implementation of certain scheduling and pay guarantee provisions so that third-party technology systems could be upgraded to accommodate new contract requirements.
“With the last provisions of the contract coming into effect on January 1, our focus has been moving to not only contract compliance but also defending the contract through the dispute resolution process,” said Capt. Chris Kenney, the pilots’ MEC chair. “We’ve been able to educate the pilots about the specifics of the contract as well as how to proceed when the terms of our agreement are violated.”
Prior to the contract being signed, JetBlue pilots operated under what purported to be individual contracts of employment that weren’t subject to the Railway Labor Act or its status-quo protections. This made issues like health care, retirement, and work rules subject to changes imposed by management without the agreement of the pilot group. With the new contract, all this changed as these items are set by a collective bargaining agreement governed by the Railway Labor Act.
“It’s not only the pilots who’ve had to adjust to working under a collective bargaining agreement,” Kenney acknowledged. “Management has also had to learn to work within the new normal. Although the company is used to running slim staffing margins, the contract has put pressure on management to fully staff this airline. With the expected growth, it’s a testament to the professionalism of this pilot group on how well this airline has operated despite limited reserve pilots and insufficient staffing.”
The new contract has been especially important as JetBlue continues to grow at a rapid pace. The company announced in late 2019 that it expected to add 500 pilots in 2020, bringing the total number of pilots to more than 4,500. The increase in pilots is also bringing about an increase in the number of aircraft on the property, with the first of 70 Airbus A220-200s arriving this year. These will eventually replace the Embraer 190s. The company is also adding A321neos, as well as A321LRs and A321XLRs over the next five years. In 2019, the company also announced plans to expand JetBlue’s footprint to London, England, in 2021.
Beyond staffing issues and the number of new pilots on the property, MEC leaders have also been addressing pilot concerns about fume and cabin odor events. JetBlue pilots have reported numerous such events. Some pilots have had to seek medical attention and to use the grievance process to get on-the-job injury compensation.
“We’re acutely aware of our pilots’ concerns about fumes and odors,” said Kenney. “We’re addressing them at every level, from education on what to do in the case of a fume event to working with ALPA national to bring this issue to the forefront. We’ve also implemented a tracking system for these events so that we can better understand and tackle the issue.”
As the pilots move into the second full year of their contract, they’re already looking ahead. Their contract becomes amendable in July 2022, but the pilots aren’t waiting to get started. The new Negotiating Committee will be in place this year with an aggressive education campaign to begin shortly thereafter to prepare for early openers 180 days before the amendable date.
“Even though our contract isn’t very old, we know there are improvements that could be made,” Kenney observed. “We aren’t going to wait for the contract to become amendable before engaging the company in meaningful dialogue to bring these improvements to our pilot group.”