Adapting to Change to Enhance Negotiations Support

F/O Joe Mauro (ExpressJet), left, and F/O Joe Maurer (Spirit) chat between presentations and exercises.

The atmosphere was full of energy as nearly 75 pilot volunteers from 18 different pilot groups gathered for ALPA’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee (SPSC) Workshop, held recently at the Association’s Herndon, Va., Conference Center to organize and train SPSC volunteers.

The theme, “Charting Course in Changing Skies,” focused discussions on adapting to the aviation industry’s evolving environment. Key to this effort is rigorous and thorough strategic planning to build, maintain, and leverage pilot unity for effective contract negotiations and managing other large-scale, decision-making opportunities. Workshop participants learned how to perform their SPSC roles more effectively through new practices and technologies while networking with their peers and sharing experiences.

SPSC enables ALPA pilot groups to maintain a continued state of readiness to respond to company and industry actions that could affect their working conditions by applying community support networks to supplement traditional outreach efforts. Components of this program include strategic preparedness, communications, Family Awareness, and Pilot-to-Pilot®.

“The strength of our union lies in our collaborative efforts,” said Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president, who stressed the value of unity building during his opening remarks. He observed that by incorporating these time-tested programs and sharing best practices, SPSC offers ALPA pilot groups a competitive edge over their counterparts at other North American airlines.

Throughout the interactive two-day training session, workshop participants heard presentations highlighting the Association’s bargaining mission and the importance of pilot group strategic planning.

Attendees engaged in a mock pilot unity-building event to better understand how these social functions provide educational opportunities and augment two-way communications. They also participated in a series of breakout sessions, some specific to their areas of expertise in negotiations support work, and shared their perspectives and recommendations on how ALPA and its members can continue to strengthen the program and chart new, effective paths to success.

“Engage, participate, question, discuss”

This was the mantra Capt. Wes Reed (FedEx Express), ALPA’s SPSC chair, encouraged committee volunteers to live by. He outlined the three cornerstones of an effective SPSC team, including communications: “The messages you put out to your members are critical to your success,” he said, emphasizing that this information needs to be “pertinent, informative, and cohesive.” The two other elements consist of strong leadership to provide direction and motivation and mentoring to ensure new members benefit from the experiences of their more senior peers. Reed stressed that from the largest to the smallest ALPA pilot groups, SPSC provides a blueprint for success.

Capt. Wes Reed (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee chair, reviews the summit’s two-day agenda.

Dovetailing with these comments, Capt. Brain Florence (United), an SPSC member and a former committee chair, reviewed how the program has evolved. “We do a lot more than strike and strike prep,” he said, adding that today’s SPSC helps ALPA pilot groups “work smarter, not harder.”

Offering insights

Workshop attendees heard from staff members of the Association’s Economic & Financial Analysis and Representation Departments who talked about recent trends in airline pilot collective bargaining and highlighted how important external factors, such as the economy and the price of fuel, can influence collective bargaining.

Understanding what you can and can’t do as a pilot group is imperative, and representatives from ALPA’s Legal Department explained how that department serves as the Association’s law firm. They also outlined commonsense rules SPSC volunteers should follow to protect themselves and their pilots.

Any kind of large-scale decision-making requires a pilot group to use a wide variety of communications tools to share information and access needed feedback. A panel of Communications Department staff members explained that successful media relations, pilot group communications, web and digital support, and social media efforts require coordination. From the use of Thunderclap message campaigns to third-party ad placements, the panel showcased the variety of tools employed in recent contract negotiations at Air Wisconsin, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and Spirit.

Representatives from ALPA’s Government Affairs Department examined the impact lawmakers have on the collective bargaining process and how pilot advocacy can influence national and international policy decisions. Participating pilots learned about computer-based tools like SPACS, which allows pilot groups to determine where members are concentrated. In addition, they heard a panel discussion featuring ALPA members involved in the latest Hawaiian and Mesa contract negotiations and the Alaska–Virgin America arbitration.

Taking notes

Assessing the workshop, pilots who attended offered their take on its true value. Capt. Andrew Ross (Envoy Air), his pilot group’s Pilot-to-Pilot chair, previously attended SPSC training in 2015. He said he returned because he particularly enjoyed the camaraderie at the event and the motivational tenor of the training segments. “This year’s presenters did a great job pumping everyone up and making sure we understand how to utilize ALPA to its fullest.”

“We’re jumpstarting our SPSC and trying to better align ourselves with pilots from other airlines,” said Capt. Erin Jackson (PSA), her pilot group’s executive administrator and communications officer. Jackson said she wanted to better understand how to reorganize the SPSC functions within her pilot group. Many of the previous SPSC leaders at PSA have either retired or moved on to larger airlines.

Capt. Mark Gaudet (Jazz Aviation), his pilot group’s new Communications Committee chair, is hoping to raise the level of engagement of his fellow members. He noted that many of the SPSC resources he learned about will be helpful in achieving this goal. “Plus, I’ve never been to the home office of the Association before to see what’s here, so I jumped at the opportunity,” he added.

F/O Jason Barton (Frontier) and his pilot group are new to ALPA. A member of the Frontier pilots’ newly established SPSC, Barton wanted “an overview of how ALPA works and to look at what we can take away as a pilot group.” He said he was particularly interested in duplicating some of the strategies outlined during the Communications Department’s presentation.

Capt. Dustin McGrath (Spirit), also a member of his pilot group’s SPSC, noted that he was flying for Atlantic Southeast Airlines at the time the Spirit pilots were on strike. He acknowledged that he attended the workshop to get “an overview of all the resources available and to network with pilots from other airlines.”—John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer


What Do Pilots Have in Common with Football Players?

George Atallah
George Atallah, the NFL Players Association assistant executive di-rector of external affairs, discusses what football players have in common with airline pilots.

In a special presentation, George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), spoke at ALPA’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee Workshop about challenges his union is facing and the issues ALPA and the NFLPA have in common, like the need for ongoing strategic communications.

Atallah observed that in both the NFL and the airline industry, incremental gains in contract negotiations help generations of workers in ways they often don’t realize. He discussed how both organizations are working to advance safety where they work. Talking specifically about airline pilots, Atallah noted, “I know when I get on a plane that I think about the skills and education you have to get me where I need to go. Harnessing that with unity is a powerful tool.”

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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