Bring a Folding Chair!

By: Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA President

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, said these words in 1968. While the topics and times were different 50 years ago, the indisputable value of having a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., or Ottawa is no different today.

Thanks to the expertise offered by ALPA pilots, our union is—almost without exception—included in policymaker and stakeholder discussions on all aviation matters. Our reputation is beyond reproach when it comes to labor relations as well as safety, security, pilot assistance, and jumpseat issues.

The landmark agreement reached by Congress on a safety-centered FAA reauthorization is the strongest testament to date. The reauthorization keeps pilot training requirements strong and two fully qualified pilots in the cockpit of every Part 121 passenger and cargo aircraft. The bill also reflects many other ALPA priorities, from mandating secondary cockpit barriers on newly manufactured passenger airliners to supporting the authorization of pilot assistance programs including HIMS to affirming pilot-in-command authority.

While we applaud the commitment demonstrated on both sides of the political aisle to make this agreement happen, we’re making clear our disappointment that the FAA reauthorization does not include language passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to ensure that flag-of-convenience airlines aren’t allowed to serve the United States. Our union will never let up on our commitment to level the playing field, and we’ll only intensify our fight to protect American jobs against foreign airlines seeking to game the system by avoiding their home labor, tax, and safety laws.

In the context of the ALPA-backed language contained in the reauthorization creating a FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board, our union is also building on our decades of work to keep the pilot pipeline strong. After all, every member made the decision to become an airline pilot. No one understands better than we do how to inspire new talent to join our ranks.

We’ll continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure a strong pilot pipeline in the United States with no adverse impact on safety. As part of this effort, ALPA has laid out in a new publication our policy solutions for how the U.S. airline industry can attract new pilots and serve small and rural communities.

It’s certainly true that every ALPA pilot group receives the full weight of our union’s resources, but two of our pilot groups in negotiations are at truly critical junctures that could affect every North American airline pilot.

The Frontier pilots’ efforts to get to a fair contract are serving as the first test of the new National Mediation Board (NMB). Backed by a $2 million ALPA Major Contingency Fund grant, the pilots have pursued every possible path to a fair contract. Despite inexcusable delays, the NMB has finally responded with new mediation dates. The Frontier pilots will be ready, and so will their union in supporting them.

When WestJet pilots’ management announced the creation of Swoop, an ultra-low-cost, nonunion airline that would use aircraft transferred from the mainline fleet, it served as a powerful reason for the pilots to join our union. Faced with an impending strike/lockout, the pilot leaders recently made a calculated decision to enter into a mediation agreement with management. The first issue? Who would fly at Swoop and who would represent them. ALPA prevailed; our WestJet pilots prevented a nonunionized, alter-ego carrier from existing under the carrier’s structure.

Of her legacy, Congresswoman Chisholm said, “I want to be remembered as a woman who dared to be a catalyst of change.” ALPA members have also been catalysts of change—in bargaining better contracts, advancing the safety and security of our industry, and ensuring the future of our profession. But we know we can only drive change if we have a seat at the table—and we’ll bring a folding chair if need be.