Two JetBlue A320s at Ft. Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport
The pilots of JetBlue remain unified as they continue to negotiate their first contact since joining ALPA in 2014.
With an average of 900 daily flights transporting more than 35 million customers annually, the airline’s focus on customer service and on-time performance has helped JetBlue earn its twelfth consecutive customer satisfaction award from the J.D. Power 2016 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. JetBlue serves nearly 100 cities and continues to grow its presence through the addition of partnerships with foreign carriers and new routes to Cuba, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In an environment of low oil prices and declining ticket prices, in 2015 JetBlue generated more than $6.4 billion in revenue and reported pretax income of $1.1 billion, excluding special items. Wall Street projections estimate that 2016 earnings will be near those for 2015.
But despite record profitability, in 2016 management imposed a reduction in the pilots’ profit-sharing formula under the purview of the individual pilot employment agreements that each pilot currently has with the company. The move did, however, come with several negotiated tradeoffs in the form of a letter of agreement (LOA)—including an 8 percent pay rate increase, which was given to all other JetBlue employees, as well as additional holidays. Another key item in the LOA also stipulates that no additional modifications can be made to the profit-sharing formula outside of negotiations.
In the end, the pilots voted 97 percent in favor of ratifying the LOA without waiving any positions or rights in collective bargaining. In spite of the overwhelming support for the LOA, the company’s unilateral change to profit sharing underscores the need for the pilot group to achieve a negotiated contract.
“Our pilots have earned a contract that reflects our contribution to JetBlue’s success,” said Capt. Patrick Walsh, the JetBlue pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chairman. “We’re seeking significant improvements to pay, benefits, work rules, and job security.”
Since the start of bargaining on March 31, 2015, the pilots’ Negotiating Committee has pursued an aggressive negotiating schedule with the company that’s led to tentative agreements on two-thirds of the contract. As they move into the final and most crucial contract sections, the pilots have been engaging in extensive polling to guide the efforts of ALPA’s negotiators.
Additionally, an interim agreement reached between the pilots and the company that allows for the enforcement of the pilot employment agreements under a Railway Labor Act system board process (a process that normally doesn’t exist prior to reaching a full collective bargaining agreement) has allowed the JetBlue MEC Grievance Committee to secure a number of positive arbitration awards and settlements.
The MEC also continues to work with the airline to integrate select MEC committees into the company’s day-to-day operation while fostering 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.
While MEC leaders continue to focus on achieving the pilots’ first contract, the airline expects to hire 400 additional pilots in 2017. Because the company has identified pilot recruitment as a potential future issue, it’s 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. The solution to attracting and retaining pilots at JetBlue is a good contract, not special training,” said Walsh.
But with their continued unity and perseverance, JetBlue pilots are optimistic that their goal of attaining a fair contract that reflects their contributions to the airline is on the horizon.