Capt. Nathan Caron, left, the pilots’ Master Executive Council chair and Local Council 38 chair, and F/O Tim French..
The Trans States Airlines Master Executive Council (MEC) ended 2019 with a new MEC chair who’s bringing new ideas to the table as he takes the helm of a pilot group that continues to face the challenges of stalled negotiations.
“I have an obligation as a union leader to represent the Trans States pilots to the best of my ability,” said Capt. Nathan Caron, the newly elected chair. “There’s going to be a learning curve, but I think I’m up to the challenge.” Caron steps into the seat vacated by Capt. Neil Butler, who was hired by Spirit Airlines in October.
The pilots, who opened Section 6 negotiations in March 2018, were optimistic that the climate of the regional industry in 2018 would prompt management to negotiate a deal that would secure the airline’s role in retaining and attracting pilots. By May 2019, after slightly more than a year of underwhelming negotiations with a recalcitrant management team, both sides had concluded that they needed outside help to complete bargaining, and they jointly filed a request for mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB). The NMB assigned mediator Gerry McGuckin, a former U.S. Air Force and airline pilot, in August to assist with the negotiations. The first mediated session was held in October.
“We came to the table fully prepared with proposals and subject-matter experts at the ready to discuss scheduling and compensation,” Caron remarked, “but management came to the table ill prepared and with no decision-maker, so we got nothing accomplished.” According to Caron, the mediator scheduled monthly sessions from December to April 2020 in the hopes of reinvigorating the negotiations and moving both sides in a positive direction toward completion.
Despite the stalled negotiations, Trans States has managed to fill training classes each month, according to Caron, by promoting its $40,000 new-hire bonus, a $50,000 insta-captain bonus, and its flow to Frontier Airlines. Trans States pilots have a direct pathway to the Frontier Airlines flight deck in a flow program that guarantees participating Trans States pilots a first officer position with the Denver-based Airbus operator after as little as two years of service with Trans States and with no additional interview for pilots accepted into the program.
“It’s a great recruitment tool,” said Caron, “but currently only two to four pilots flow per month; we need more pilots to flow to make it attractive enough to overcome our contract’s shortfalls. Converting hiring bonuses into hourly wage rates, which has been done at other carriers, would be a great place to start.”
Caron noted that presently the majority of pilots in training are applicants accepted to Trans States under its rotor-wing transition program, which funds up to $50,000 in fixed-wing training for rotor pilots who are short ATP minimums.
“On one hand, management thinks we aren’t short staffed because it continues to fill classes,” Caron explained, “but on the other hand, the airline is offering critical pay up to 300 percent for vacation buyback because we don’t have enough captain coverage, especially in our Denver base.” Caron said that the majority of rotor-wing pilots in training will eventually dry up and the pilot shortage will become more obvious.
“Now more than ever management needs to realize that a strong contract that compensates pilots both economically and with quality-of-life improvements is in the airline’s best interest to attract and retain quality pilots,” remarked Caron.
Attracting and retaining quality pilots is also important to the health of the MEC and its ability to recruit volunteers to serve as representatives and on the various committees that make the Association run effectively, according to Caron.Caron noted that the Trans States pilots deserve a deal that recognizes their professionalism, especially given the current state of the industry. “Aviation management teams at other carriers recognize the need to provide enhanced recruitment and retention programs and policies, and it’s time Trans States management did, too,” he observed.