Union Solidarity Knows No Borders

By Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA President

Global challenges require global solidarity. It’s true now more than ever, as the world’s airlines carry more than four billion passengers a year and over 52 million metric tons of freight. In these times, the challenges and opportunities airline pilots encounter in the cockpit and working with their companies can cross borders and span continents—and so must our collaboration.

I often say that unions are the social glue that brings the political left and right together, but unions also pull airline pilots together across miles and over oceans. Such solidarity empowers workers to speak with one voice, despite differences in location and language and equipment and experience.

One clear benefit of collective labor agreements is a stronger safety culture. Through data-driven decisions by highly trained and experienced pilots and other workers, unionism helps make possible the risk-predictive model for air transportation that is taking the global industry to the next level of safety.

Regardless of where we fly or what we carry, ALPA pilots know that the strongest safety asset on any flight is the presence of at least two fully qualified, highly trained, and well-rested pilots in the cockpit. We’re confident that others recognize this fact—in our industry and beyond. During the 74th conference of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, for example, the world’s pilots affirmed their opposition to reduced-crew operations. Every airline pilot recognizes that these operations carry significant additional risks over existing dual-pilot operations. ALPA has highlighted the safety value of having at least two pilots in the cockpit—a fact that has been supported by the safe outcome of tens of thousands of flights every day taking place on thin metal tubes moving safely through the lower stratosphere. (Read more from the IFALPA conference.)

Just as the world’s airlines connect more than 21,000 city pairs for commerce, more than double the connectivity of 20 years ago, airline pilots are more interconnected than ever when it comes to labor issues affecting our profession. Pilots in both the United States and Canada work under a single regulatory and legal framework—a distinct advantage that many of the world’s pilots don’t enjoy and one of many reasons that atypical employment is so harmful.

Atypical employment appears in different forms—it might be working under individual temporary contracts with an airline, through an employment agency, or as a purportedly “self-employed” individual. With more than 80 bases across Europe, Ryanair uses just such atypical employment. Its pilots lack a single legal framework to govern their complex employment arrangements—a situation that allows the company to exploit pilots when negotiating. Rather than the dignity that comes with a stable career, the pilots go to work knowing their jobs could disappear at any time.

But ALPA pilots’ recognition that such exploitation by management exists connects us to all airline pilots across the globe. As a result, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Ryanair pilots, and they have clearly shown that they will not be divided. They’ve demanded dignity in their work through the power of unionism and collective bargaining agreements.

Union solidarity and worker dignity knows no borders or boundaries. The indisputable power of union representation—along with the full engagement of its members—is the solution for the world’s pilots as we work together to improve the safety of our industry, the dignity of our work, and the future of our profession.