The past 20 months have been a time of growth and progress for the 2,600-plus pilots who voted overwhelmingly to join ALPA in April 2014. Launching an aggressive membership drive, setting up a committee structure, and starting negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement are just a few of the highlights.

In April 2015, the pilots’ Negotiating Committee began bargaining with the airline, the fifth largest in the United States, for the group’s first contract under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act (RLA). With sessions taking place nearly every month in 2015, the Negotiating Committee and the company have reached tentative agreements on several sections of a contract.

“Our first priority has always been to ensure that our pilots achieve the working conditions they, like the other outstanding members of this profession, absolutely deserve,” said Capt. Jim Bigham, the pilots’ former Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “Our negotiators are working hard to build a contract that will finally give us the quality of life we have earned and deserve.”

Last year also saw activity outside of Section 6 negotiations. The MEC negotiated with the company to enhance the pilots’ quality of life by improving check-in requirements for reserve pilots and resolving previous disputes to ensure that lineholders wouldn’t have to work longer than six consecutive days unless specifically waiving that rule.

Additionally, with the assistance of the MEC officers and ALPA staff, the Grievance Committee negotiated and applied a full-scale RLA grievance and System Board process to deal with disciplinary disputes over obligations created by existing company manuals. The committee also established a dispute tracking system through the MEC website that allows pilots to manage filed disputes—piggybacking on the online technology already in place for the pilot data reporting system. The goal is to resolve disputes between pilots and management at the chief pilot level instead of the dispute escalating and being filed as a grievance.

Another key victory was successfully negotiating payroll deductions for ALPA dues. A checkoff arrangement with the company was a top priority for the MEC, and after more than a year of discussions, the MEC and the company were able to agree on the logistics for and implementation of dues checkoff.

The MEC also continues to work with the airline to provide ALPA pilot representatives with company-paid flight pay loss and to integrate select MEC committees into the company’s day-to-day operation while continuing to foster a professional working relationship with JetBlue’s senior management—an important step in ensuring that the Association can play a role in providing the best future for JetBlue and its pilots.

“As pilots, we are very much leaders in JetBlue’s company culture and part of the brand that continues to make this business grow,” noted Bigham, who added that the MEC and the company have built a good working rapport but have faced significant challenges along the way.

While MEC leaders continue to focus on achieving the pilots’ first contract, the growth of the airline brings about new challenges for the pilot group in 2016. Last year, profits soared for the airline, due in part to the launch of Mint in June 2014 and several new routes to Latin America and the Caribbean, including charter service to Cuba. The airline expects to hire 250–350 additional pilots this year. The company has identified pilot recruitment as a potential future issue and has launched a new recruitment and pilot training program called Gateway 7. The MEC opposes the program on the grounds that the company receives thousands of applications from qualified pilots who have thousands of hours of experience and are ready to fly for JetBlue. The MEC also maintains that any recruitment program should not undermine or weaken current FAA regulations, which ensure that safety is paramount.

Also taking on a wider safety mission, JetBlue pilots are very much a part of the active army of ALPA pilots who advocate for pilots’ rights and safety and have joined their fellow pilots in lobbying members of Congress in Washington, D.C. “We have the most critical responsibility in this industry as its champions of safety,” said Bigham, who, along with Capt. Mike McMackin (JetBlue), an ALPA executive vice president, has taken a leadership role advocating on Capitol Hill. 

JetBlue parked at Cyril E. King Airport - ALPA
A JetBlue airplane parked at Cyril E. King Airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.