Less than a decade ago, Spirit was a small operation with fewer than 400 pilots and only three domiciles. Today, Spirit has more than 1,200 pilots, six domiciles, and is adding new airplanes in unprecedented numbers. The airline has more than 100 Airbuses on order and will receive 52 in the next two years. And the group has been in intense negotiations for an amended agreement for more than eight months.
As a result, bringing stability to Spirit has been especially challenging. As the airline continues to add domiciles, routes, and destinations, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) has worked to ensure that every pilot is represented. As new domiciles have opened, the pilots have created a regional system of Local Executive Council (LEC) representation to ensure that growth does not create any lapse in contractual protection.
“We’ve wanted to keep our LEC representation consistent so that there wasn’t a divide between more established bases and newer ones,” said Capt. James Ackerman, the pilots’ MEC chairman. “Instead, we’ve created LECs that span two or more domiciles so that our MEC can fully represent our pilots while being nimble enough to respond quickly to situations.”
That ability to respond immediately was tested this past summer as Spirit dealt with a major operational disruption. The pilot group acted quickly to provide temporary relief to contractual limits on flying, allowing Spirit to recover and return to normal operations in a matter of days. However, the MEC and union representatives were careful to keep track of each instance in which the company used the relief to ensure that the affected pilot was provided an appropriate remedy.
Early in 2015, the pilots agreed to meet with the company outside of Section 6 negotiations to work toward a deal before the contract’s August amendable date. The Negotiating Committee met repeatedly with management throughout the spring in hopes of coming to an agreement. By summer, however, it was clear that talks would need to extend past August to resolve outstanding issues. The MEC’s Communications Committee and Strategic Preparedness Committee members stand ready to provide the necessary information to the pilots in order to evaluate a tentative agreement in the event one is quickly reached or, alternatively, to keep the pilots organized and informed during a lengthier Section 6 process.
“Spirit is growing faster than any other U.S. airline—we’re adding airplanes and routes in record numbers. Spirit is also the most profitable U.S. airline, with no end in sight,” said Ackerman. “These numbers do not happen in a vacuum. Spirit pilots have actively contributed to this success—and we expect our contract to reflect these contributions.”
The pilots’ last contract negotiations concluded in June 2010, when, after almost four years of negotiations during which the company sought substantial concessions, the pilots went on a five-day strike. The final agreement, reached under the supervision of the National Mediation Board, resulted in a contract with industry-leading work rules and substantial raises for both captains and first officers. With an improved contract in place and the opportunity for quick upgrades based on a significant expansion in fleet size, there was an influx of new pilots at the carrier. Not surprisingly, this expansion presented its own challenges.
“It’s important that all Spirit pilots, regardless of when they came onto the property, are involved, informed, and engaged,” said Ackerman. “There’s simply no way that we could go into a ratification process for a new contract with a group that isn’t unified.”
To this end, the MEC has engaged in an aggressive communications campaign, including a weekly chairman’s audio message, regular Payday Hotlines, and negotiations updates. The group has also hosted numerous pilot unity-building events, including an event last year featuring a bonfire containing traditional paper Jepp manuals after they were replaced by far lighter electronic flight bags. As negotiations continue, the pilot group remains hopeful that the 2010 agreement will soon be as outdated as the old Jepp manuals.