By Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA President
In the first days of this pandemic, ALPA realized early on that, in many ways, we were on our own. As it had so many times in the past, our survival depended on falling back on the reason we formed this union in the first place: pilots relying on each other and working together to build a safe flying environment.
In a historic act of solidarity, ALPA members led the traveling public in sending more than 270,000 letters and e-mails to Congress to urge lawmakers to pass a clean extension of the CARES Act payroll support program (PSP) through March 31. Earlier this year, our union played a critical role in the enactment of the CARES Act, a worker-first economic relief package that has served as a lifeline for our industry until now. However, no one could have predicted at that time that the pandemic would persist with such severity or harm our industry at such a scale.
Our union has been clear that if our government fails to prevent the thousands of pilots who’ve received furlough notices from losing their jobs when the PSP expires on September 30, the result will not only exact personal financial devastation on workers, but it will also drain the economy as well as state and federal resources. With our members’ help, we’re making sure decision-makers are aware of the unparalleled role that the airlines play in fueling the global economy, supporting the military, transporting American goods and services abroad, and providing essential transportation for smaller American cities.
Thanks to ALPA pilots’ action, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have acknowledged the need for continued economic relief for aviation workers. Sixteen Republican senators and a bipartisan majority of House members have backed extending the PSP, as has President Trump. Despite this resounding bipartisan support, aviation workers still have no agreement—but our union is fighting hard, and we will not give up.
In Canada, we welcomed the recent extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), but the extension is only postponing the inevitable fate of a majority of workers in the sector if there is no direct government financial assistance for airlines beyond the CEWS end date. ALPA Canada recently presented forward-looking recommendations to the government that provide a clear path to assisting the industry’s COVID-19 recovery efforts and future growth. Again, our pilots can count on each other—thousands of ALPA’s members in Canada have participated in our Calls to Action.
Since the onset of the pandemic, ALPA has called for a government public-health mandate in the areas of face masks, disinfection, personal protective equipment, contact tracing, and exposure notification. Thanks to our members’ commitment to the common good and submitting noncompliance information through Data Action Reports and other individual pilot group programs, ALPA has been able to identify gaps in airline compliance and apply pressure on our employers to resolve them. We continue to call for a government mandate, but even without one, our union has positively affected industry behavior. Ensuring a healthy flying environment is only one element of ALPA’s strategic effort to build the public’s confidence to return to the skies. We’re also doing other work to help increase bookings and save jobs—including expanding efforts to reach out to passengers with our message that airline pilots are “Ready for Takeoff.”
We know that the challenges ahead are formidable—and that our working together to support each other professionally and personally is the only effective counter. More than 11,000 pilots have received notices of potential furlough. Recently, we learned of ExpressJet’s wind down and that American Airlines plans to cut routes to many small-to-mid-sized U.S. cities. Amid these intensely troubling developments, our recent Fee-for-Departure Bargaining Roundtable is supporting our members who fly for regionals by fostering information exchange. For pilots who transition to furlough status, ALPA’s Furloughed Pilots Support Program offers mentoring and other key resources.
In truth, every ALPA pilot is affected by the serious economic challenge our industry and profession are now facing. But just as ALPA’s founders did nearly 90 years ago, our members today are showing that we can count on each other. If we’re alone, we’re alone together.