Adapting ALPA Leadership Training for Our New Reality

Weighing In

By Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA Vice President–Administration/Secretary

In the performance of our jobs, airline pilots are required to be flexible. Weather, minimum equipment list issues, and a host of other concerns can compel us to revise our flight plans to ensure that we maintain a safe operation. Likewise, ALPA must also be able to turn on a dime when circumstances change to make sure that we continue to serve our members and successfully navigate an ever-changing airline industry.

Take this year’s Leadership Training Conference, for example. ALPA conducts this event each year early in the first quarter to provide the Association’s latest class of local council representatives and officers a better understanding of their responsibilities when they take office on March 1. These representatives require a basic knowledge of their duties, how the union operates, and the many resources the Association makes available. This kind of specialized instruction is one of the many features that distinguishes ALPA as a leading labor organization.

However, preparing for this year’s conference provided a new set of challenges for the Association as social distancing measures, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, required us to take an alternative approach. For the first time in my 14 years of hosting this event with the Leadership Committee, we scheduled an interim virtual training session to provide the new pilot reps with the most vital aspects of local council oversight until we can meet in person later this year.

In my presentations to the group, I talked about the day-to-day responsibilities that come with the job, like communicating with members, representing pilots, recruiting committee volunteers, and serving as a real-time reference for the pilot group and the larger Association.

Specific duties are outlined in the Association’s Constitution and By-Laws, Article III, Section 4. Local council reps conduct meetings and must be familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order so that they can effectively manage meetings while maintaining control and authority. During the pandemic, many local councils haven’t been able to conduct official in-person meetings, making flexibility a necessity. To meet that need, ALPA offers several audio/web conferencing solutions for informational briefings and town hall–type meetings.

ALPA’s pilot leaders oversee both contract negotiations and contract enforcement. To do so, they need a firm understanding of their collective bargaining agreement and how it works. They need to know how the union’s Constitution & By-Laws and Administrative Manual impact their plans and activities. They also need to understand responsibilities such as the duty of fair representation so that they represent all members fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination.

In addition to serving their local councils, status reps are also members of their pilot group’s master executive council and ALPA’s Board of Directors, the Association’s highest governing body. That’s why it’s imperative that they recognize the important part they play within the union so that they can hit the ground running when they assume office.

However, effective leadership means more than simply performing a list of tasks, and that was the challenge the Leadership Committee and I confronted when preparing this one-day interim virtual conference agenda. The pandemic compelled us to consolidate the usual four days of presentations, panel discussions, role-playing exercises, and networking opportunities into a single day. To ensure that all issues and information are covered, we’re offering several additional online training modules in March and April to the new pilot leaders. And barring any additional unforeseen obstacles, we’ve scheduled an in-person conference with these pilot leaders in September to review what we discussed and provide the educational components we were forced to eliminate.

ALPA is committed to ensuring that its elected pilot leaders are fully prepared to serve our members and that pilots who step up to volunteer their time in the service of our union receive the training and preparation they need to fulfill their duties. We may have deviated from our original flight plan, but we acted swiftly and decisively to ensure that ALPA’s most recent class of local council reps is ready to serve as the face of our union in meetings, negotiations, hearings, and any other events that require these leaders’ attention.

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)