New Grievance Resource Created to Improve Dispute Resolutions

Advocacy in Action, Part 1

By Anna LeBovidge, Assistant Director, Representation, and John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Last year, ALPA’s Executive Council was tasked with assessing the value of creating an Association-wide resource to observe dispute-resolution practices among the union’s pilot groups. After careful consideration, the President’s Grievance Committee was established to offer guidance, provide resources, and promote best practices. Part 1 of a series of Air Line Pilot articles examines the creation of the committee along with the foundation and processes for addressing labor contract and workplace-precedence violations, as well as defending members involved in disciplinary actions.

One of the many benefits of belonging to the world’s most influential and largest airline pilots’ association is the ability to network with peers at other carriers and learn from each other’s experiences. While ALPA facilitates this kind of interaction and partnership for a host of disciplines and activities, it continues to look for new ways to help member pilot groups better prepare for the opportunities and obstacles they’re likely to confront. A case in point is the recent creation of the President’s Grievance Committee.

While ALPA continues to negotiate remarkable gains in labor contracts, ensuring that members are fully able to reap the benefits of these improvements is an ongoing challenge. Subsequently, making certain that airline managements comply with all the terms they agree to is an Association priority. “Even as we’re supporting our pilot groups that are at the table, we’re putting an intensive focus on making certain managements respect our collective agreements,” said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, at the union’s recent Leadership Training Conference. “Securing a strong contract is critical—but enforcing it is just as important.”

The Executive Council acted in 2023 to extend the purpose of ALPA’s Major Contingency Fund—often used for communications in the final stages of collective bargaining—to include contract implementation (see “ALPA Adds Another Valuable Tool to Its ‘War Chest,’” in the September 2022 issue). While this decision addresses a specific need and some pilot groups have already benefited from this new policy, more action was necessary.

“We’ve set up our first-ever Association-level committee dedicated to contract enforcement—the President’s Grievance Committee,” remarked Ambrosi during the conference. “An Association-level grievance committee seems so obvious—but our union has never had one. This is a great example of collaboration—a common-sense idea proposed by the JetBlue MEC [Master Executive Council] at the Executive Council. The idea was immediately embraced, and we created this important asset to improve our pilots’ careers, create pilot jobs, and propel the labor movement to a position of new strength.”

Pilot Driven

JetBlue pilots joined ALPA in 2014, and a year later Capt. David Kidder (JetBlue) was appointed the pilot group’s MEC Grievance Committee chair. “We had to totally stand up the committee from scratch,” he recalled. “The labor relations counsellors and paralegals were all extremely helpful, but I was curious as to why there was no pilot resource available that could explain how we arrange and manage this kind of structure.”

Kidder began talking with his fellow Grievance Committee chairs serving other pilot groups and soon determined that, for the most part, contract enforcement and disciplinary cases were handled in a variety of ways. In June 2023, at the urging of Kidder and at the request of Capt. Jim Bigham (JetBlue), the Group A executive vice president, the JetBlue MEC asked that the union’s Executive Council evaluate the benefits of creating an Association-wide grievance committee.

The JetBlue pilots emphasized that such a structure could coordinate the institutional knowledge, experience, and best practices for the union’s dispute-resolution efforts to “help ensure resources are available to ALPA pilot groups and members needing grievance assistance,” as stated in the JetBlue resolution.

The group added that the creation of this resource would bolster the Association’s strategic objectives regarding contract enforcement by “providing a centralized point of contact and a repository for grievance information, training, and resources.”

Executive Council Decision

The Executive Council considered the measure, instructing ALPA’s Special Representational Structure Review Committee (SRSRC), led by Capt. Mike Hamilton (United), to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. The SRSRC reviewed the pertinent sections of ALPA’s Administrative Manual, seeing merit in the committee’s creation, and last September Ambrosi established the President’s Grievance Committee.

That same month, the Executive Council authorized the necessary funding. Ambrosi instructed Capt. Wes Clapper, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, to serve as coordinator and initial chair for the new group during its organizational phase. As outlined in the September 2023 resolution for the Executive Council, all members of the committee must be appointed by ALPA’s president, including the chair.

In his January–February 2024 “Moving Forward Together” column, Ambrosi observed that 11 ALPA pilot groups ratified new collective agreements last year, noting that the Association has since focused intently on ensuring that airline managements adhere to ALPA’s collective bargaining agreements. In an all-member message, Ambrosi asserted, “It’s not enough to just negotiate superior deals; we must also hold managements accountable and ensure they comply with the terms. The details may differ, but the solution is always the same: pilots working together.”

Ambrosi soon appointed Kidder to serve as the committee chair. Other committee members include Capt. Joby Bond (Air Canada), Capt. William Finlay (Delta), Capt. Patrick Pernell (Envoy Air), Capt. Mary Murphy (FedEx Express), Capt. Jeffrey Martin (Frontier), Capt. Iam Bouret (Hawaiian), Capt. Gil Renaud (Jazz Aviation), Capt. Eric Meenk (Sun Country), and Capt. Phil DiCostanzo (United).

Moving Forward Together

“The genesis for the committee is simple,” said Kidder. “Each MEC has a responsibility to advocate for its pilots when there’s a contractual or disciplinary dispute. But each property exercises the grievance process in different ways. ALPA pilot groups have never collectively examined best practices or how we use our available resources.”

The President’s Grievance Committee is scheduled to meet for the first time at the Association’s McLean, Va., offices on March 18, the day before ALPA’s annual Grievance Training Seminar takes place. In preparation for this meeting, committee members will

  • review how grievance committees process disputes and identify what approaches work best;
  • ensure the union’s grievance training seminars include focused coursework for grievance chairs, MEC officers, and arbitration board members; and
  • review ALPA’s Dispute Tracking System, which Kidder feels could be updated to better align with member needs and workflows.

From a broader presidential committee perspective, Ambrosi’s goal is to create healthy grievance programs to generate better outcomes for ALPA members. Meeting that goal requires fully understanding how different grievance committees process their work, determining what a successful grievance program should look like, and identifying any best practices that advance the overall dispute-resolution process.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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