An Embraer E145 at sunrise. (Photo: Capt. Ryan Cianciolo [Piedmont])
If 2020 was about ensuring Piedmont Airlines pilots had a future, 2021 was about building that future back stronger than ever.
In 2020, the Piedmont Master Executive Council (MEC) focused on protecting its pilots during an unprecedented time in the industry. Following a strong recovery from the pandemic, in 2021 MEC leaders turned their focus to creating an airline with a robust, healthy future that’s attractive to pilots joining the industry.
To secure a strong future for the pilot group, the Piedmont MEC approaches every challenge with ingenuity and creative problem solving. One such challenge arose in July 2018. With the addition of Embraer E145s and retirement of the Dash 8s, the contract written for a pilot group that had flown prop aircraft needed to be adapted to accommodate an all-jet fleet. With a contract that doesn’t become amendable until September 2024, the pilots sought an option to negotiate outside of Section 6 negotiations.
The pilots and management agreed to two interim mini-sessions during which each side can submit up to five issues for consideration. This past summer, the MEC started preparing for the final midterm negotiating session, which began on Jan. 10, 2022.
“We started preparing for this negotiating opportunity with strategic planning last summer and completed a pilot survey this past October, which led to determining the five negotiating priorities our pilots want us to pursue,” said Capt. Ryan Miller, the MEC chair, who took the leadership position following Capt. Brandon Lighty’s move to American Airlines through the flow program in November. “We’re looking forward to achieving gains that add real value for our pilots.”
Even before midterm bargaining began, the MEC and Negotiating Committee achieved major gains for the pilot group in September as part of negotiations surrounding the unprecedented American Airlines Group retention and bonus program. In addition to the retention and bonus package worth up to $150,000, the pilots were able to negotiate an enhanced flow program sending more pilots to parent company American Airlines each month, increased pay rates, sick leave buyback, critical-coverage premium pay, and more.
“Our positive relationship with management allowed us to seek these significant gains, in addition to the retention package, outside of Section 6 or any scheduled bargaining, so we’re optimistic that we can come to an agreement on additional solutions that benefit both the pilots and the company in this midterm bargaining,” Miller remarked.
While these contract improvements and career incentives are great news for the pilot group, the airline is experiencing increased turnover as the majors pick up hiring. In 2021, several volunteers on the Grievance, Negotiating, Scheduling, and other committees moved on in their careers, leaving key vacancies to be filled. Bolstering volunteer ranks and ensuring a deep bench to share knowledge and support continuity during this time of transition will continue to be a priority for the pilot group in 2022.
“During strategic planning, we discussed how to identify potential pilot volunteers, provide the training and resources they need to support our pilot group, and plan for the future of each committee with a strong succession plan,” noted Miller. “We’ve implemented several of these ideas and are seeing the results as we welcome enthusiastic new pilot volunteers to key roles.”
The MEC also began an effort in 2021 to launch a Pilot-to-Pilot (P2P) Committee to enhance communication and understanding with the pilot group by providing opportunities for two-way dialogue. The P2P program recently rolled out in time to engage the pilots as they work through midterm bargaining. The Communications Committee also continues to strengthen communication tools through the Piedmont Pulse magazine and Triple P: Piedmont Pilots podcast.
“As new volunteers bring new ideas and experience to the MEC, we’ll be ready to meet the next challenge head-on with creative solutions to strengthen the futures of Piedmont pilots,” Miller said.