The Grievance Environment: What Pilots Are Currently Fighting For

Advocacy in Action, Part 4

By 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, ALPA’s president established the President’s Grievance Committee to offer guidance, provide resources, and promote best practices. Part 4 of this series of Air Line Pilot articles looks at the current pilot grievance environment and the issues ALPA members are addressing. Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Along with contract negotiations, contract enforcement forms a central pillar of ALPA’s work in collective bargaining. The Association’s recent Grievance Training Seminar emphasized the need to include contract enforcement planning and resources in every Master Executive Council’s (MEC) strategic plan. The union’s national strategic plan also lists the enforcement of contractual rights and benefits as a key strategic objective. Across the Association, MECs are working hard to enforce their agreements and ensure their pilots enjoy the benefits they bargained for.

Another important element of many MEC strategic plans is increased communication and transparency about contract enforcement efforts. Many Grievance Committees are publishing regular reports about the state of the grievance process to keep their member properly apprised. This article takes a look at a cross section of ALPA pilot groups, the types of disputes they’re addressing, and a few of the ways they’re communicating their efforts.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines has been a recent hub of dispute-resolution activity with more than 1,200 open pilot grievances. Currently in negotiations, Frontier pilots have proposed a change to their current contract language that would increase the minimum number of yearly arbitrations from four to six. In addition, the pilot group hopes to establish a means to accelerate quarterly mediation and arbitration sessions to limit future backlogs. However, management has yet to respond to these proposals in a meaningful way.

The vast majority of current grievances involve the assignment of unapproved hotels, particularly for layovers in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoenix, Ariz. The pilots received some good news in May when an arbitrator weighed in on a separate case involving a hotel being used for pilot training. The arbitrator found that management had violated a May 26, 2021, settlement agreement as well as a related memorandum of understanding (MOU) and ordered the company to pay each affected pilot $150 per nightly occurrence. Based on the volume of such occurrences, the total remedy approached $400,000 according to reports from the pilots’ MEC.

Like many ALPA Grievance Committees, the Frontier Grievance Committee is using the Association’s Dispute Tracking System and encouraging members to file a DART to ask questions.

WestJet Airlines

Grievances can address a wide range of contract violations and conditions pilots should be compensated for. As of mid-May, WestJet Airlines pilots had a half dozen grievance cases awaiting arbitration, including one alleging management’s noncompliance with the collective agreement regarding B-737 MAXs formerly operated by Swoop (following its integration into the WestJet operation in October 2023) and the carrier’s B-787s. The case involves “out and in” event times for the purposes of pilot pay.

Other grievances challenged WestJet’s publication of the contractually required number of reserve lines; reimbursement for job-related expenses; unreasonable changes to travel privileges; and an additional scope violation related to Sunwing, which WestJet purchased in May 2023. The Sunwing operation and pilots are currently being integrated into WestJet and the WestJet seniority list.

Earlier this year, WestJet pilots pursued a case involving a previously negotiated stipend for canceled flights that resulted in extended hotel stays. The MEC announced in a May 3 correspondence to pilots, “Recognizing the complexities involved with varying hotel stay durations and check-in/-out times, it became clear that a more precise and comprehensive framework was needed.” The MEC subsequently negotiated Letter of Understanding 24 designating $40 cancellation pay for 30 hours or less; $80 cancellation payment for more than 30 hours, but less than 48 hours; and $120 for 48 hours or more. These times address periods between assigned duty periods while on a pairing or training assignment away from the pilot’s home base.

In many cases, solving a pilot dispute through negotiations can be an effective way to reach a resolution while also strengthening the collective agreement.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines pilots have also been busy on the contract enforcement front. In 2022, they filed a group grievance challenging the company’s decision to deny bypass pay to pilots awarded a captain’s seat before they had met the flight-time requirements to fly as captains under FAR Part 121.436—a regulation that doesn’t concern pilot pay and wasn’t mentioned in the pilot group’s 2017 labor agreement. While management could deny training to a pilot, it couldn’t selectively disregard its obligation to pay the individual the bypass pay per the terms of the agreement.

Management consequently “made whole” six pilots who were held at lower hourly rates for a cumulative 25 months, totaling 2,068 hours at an average rate difference of $100 per hour, plus corresponding 401(k) contributions and ratification bonus adjustments.

FedEx Express

In January, the FedEx Express pilots grieved the company’s use of a wet-lease with Kalitta Charters II on a route between Miami International Airport and Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport in San Pedro Sula in the Cortés Department of Honduras. ALPA originally brought this matter to management’s attention in late August 2023 but was advised that the company was diligently pursuing the necessary regulatory authority to allow the route to be flown by FedEx pilots.

Until then, the company indicated that it was operating under Section 1.B.7.a. of the contract providing that no penalty or payment would be due as long as FedEx made a “good-faith effort to acquire that authority.” The pilots contend that this matter should have been resolved by now.

Another FedEx grievance was filed for pilots who weren’t considered for a special international bid award (SIBA) at the carrier’s Memphis, Tenn., base because the company claimed the pilots weren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 or didn’t update their vaccination status, based on language in a 2022 MOU. The pilots assert that SIBA staffing should have been determined without consideration of vaccination status, and that management’s decision affected pilots who were wrongfully assigned to SIBA and had to fly the assignment as well as others who were denied the flying and corresponding pay.

Other FedEx open grievances address incorrect and material information communicated by the airline regarding activation into a captain crew seat vacancy and a company policy requiring all pilots who fly the MD-11, B-767, and B-777 and to obtain a second passport.

Jazz Aviation

Disputes can involve more than one ALPA pilot group. Last year, Jazz Aviation pilots filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), arguing that both Jazz and Air Canada violated the exclusivity deal between the two airlines and arbitrarily reduced the flow of pilots from one carrier to the other.

Jazz pilots asked the CIRB for an order that both airlines cease and desist violating the Canada Labour Code and take all necessary steps to honor the commitments made in this arrangement.

The CIRB met with representatives from ALPA, Jazz, and Air Canada on April 19 for a case-management conference to identify the key issues in the dispute and consider possible resolutions. The case is still pending, and a follow-up conference is planned for this August. (The Air Canada MEC isn’t a party to this dispute.)

Envoy Air

The Envoy Air pilots’ Contract Compliance Committee has addressed a host of recent collective bargaining issues due to schedule irregularities brought on by inclement weather. To help the pilots better understand their contract language and quickly respond to related questions, the committee has created a wiki search tool with all the contract information in plain, searchable text. Tools like the Envoy Air contract wiki help members better understand their agreement and enforce the contract.

Contract enforcement makes a tangible difference in the lives of ALPA members. Contract enforcement can take numerous forms including an arbitration award, mediated or direct settlement, negotiation of a superseding letter of agreement to resolve the dispute, and other means. The effort to enforce the contract begins with all pilots understanding their agreement and the MEC making enforcing a contract as high a priority as negotiating one.

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

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)