“Air Colbert,” the aircraft used on Virgin America’s inaugural flight, on the ground at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.
In the summer of 2015, Virgin America pilots overwhelmingly voted to join the Air Line Pilots Association. Following interim Master Executive Council (MEC) member and officer elections, a Contract Study Committee was created to begin preparing for the pilots’ first collective bargaining agreement. After permanent representatives and officers were elected, and the Contract Study Committee became the Negotiating Committee, the team prepared for negotiations that began in February 2016.
“We had a mandate from our pilots,” said Capt. Joe Youngerman, the pilots’ MEC chairman, “to obtain a fair contract by April 2017. We recognized that this was an aggressive timeline. But management provided us raises each April, which ceased when we joined ALPA, and we weren’t prepared to go two years without any cost-of-living increases.” While negotiations began smoothly and great progress was being made, three months into that process Alaska Airlines management announced that it was acquiring Virgin America. “Talk about a course correction!” said Youngerman. “While we had budgeted for an aggressive negotiating timeline, we weren’t prepared to increase our negotiating schedule, staff a Merger Committee, and hold many more MEC meetings given that we work for an airline that’s chronically understaffed, making ALPA trip drops difficult and our work time somewhat limited.”
Yet despite these challenges, the MEC leaders began working with their new ALPA brothers and sisters at Alaska Airlines to begin the numerous tasks involved with merging two pilot groups. One of the first objectives was naming a Joint Negotiating Committee that would be charged with negotiating a transition and process agreement (TPA) with both managements that would function as the blueprint for how the pilot groups would be merged under a single joint collective bargaining agreement. The Joint Negotiating Committee began negotiating the TPA with management in August, and in December the two MECs approved the TPA that provides an aggressive schedule for bargaining a joint collective bargaining agreement.
This year will likely be just as demanding as the Virgin America pilots continue to work to integrate with the Alaska pilots. “Both groups have worked very well together, and we see tremendous value in the merger,” Youngerman noted. “We know the merger of these two top-rated airlines can be incredibly successful. This success will require management to share our commitment to get the work done in a timely manner and to acknowledge that the industry has changed—and that our compensation and quality of life must change to keep us aligned with our peers.
“We stand ready to secure a contract that allows the combined airline to thrive, but also recognizes the contribution the Virgin America pilots make to that success,” Youngerman added. “Our pilots have faced a lot over the last few years, but have continued to remain highly unified and supportive of the MEC and our negotiators, which makes obtaining a joint collective bargaining agreement even more important. Our group deserves to be treated and paid fairly, and we’re united with the Alaska pilots in securing this outcome.”
Once the joint collective bargaining agreement is finalized, the pilot group will focus on combining seniority lists and merging the MECs. “We also look forward to continuing to cultivate a cooperative, professional, and beneficial relationship with the Alaska pilot group and management,” noted Youngerman.In addition to focusing on securing a joint collective bargaining agreement and merging with the Alaska pilots, the MEC continues to handle daily issues on behalf of the pilot group. During the past year, the MEC negotiated several letters of agreement that provide an interim dispute-resolution process, scheduling improvements, and agency shop rules. The agency shop provision ensures that each Virgin America pilot participates financially in supporting the work being done on the pilots’ behalf by their elected representatives and their committees.