Behind the Scenes of the BOD Meeting
By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer
Even during “normal” times, holding ALPA’s biennial Board of Directors (BOD) meeting takes a lot of preparation. Staff members in just about every ALPA department are involved, taking direction from national officers and working with committees and directors to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly and is a success.
But 2020 can hardly be termed normal times. COVID-19 grabbed hold of the world in March, introducing phrases like social distancing into the vocabulary and face masks into the dress code. Yet this year’s BOD meeting (see “Board of Directors Convenes Virtually, Plans for Association’s Future”) was carried out effectively with few glitches.
“ALPA’s pilot-staff team seamlessly transformed the in-person BOD meeting into a virtual event that continued to serve as a constructive forum for local council status representatives to discuss our union’s ongoing work,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president. “As a result, our first-ever virtual BOD allowed our highest governing body to provide important direction for ALPA’s efforts to preserve pilot jobs and support members facing employment uncertainty, while we continue to press to improve our pilots’ pay, quality of life, and benefits and advance our pilot-partisan advocacy goals.”
That’s not to say this year’s meeting was an easy lift. A lot of coordination was involved, going back months.
ALPA spent a good deal of time determining if the event would need to be held virtually. As the first wave of the pandemic passed over the summer, various areas of the country were allowing different levels of public access and permissions.
While the pandemic forced both Executive Board meetings to be held virtually in 2020, ALPA’s leaders still preferred an in-person BOD meeting—safety permitting. “Having an in-person meeting is so valuable,” explained Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary. “Our work takes us around the globe, but it’s important to come together in person, build relationships, and engage with people face to face. It makes the heartbeat of the union keep going. But we also had to keep an eye on safety and make the right decision for everyone.”
Determining the Location
As the months ticked away, ALPA leaders were working on two different plans simultaneously: preparing for an in-person BOD meeting in Hollywood, Fla., should the pandemic allow that to happen and getting ready for a virtual meeting based in ALPA’s McLean, Va., offices.
In addition, quarantine laws in Canada all but assured that ALPA’s Canadian delegates wouldn’t be able to attend a meeting in the United States, and ALPA leaders assumed that at least some U.S. delegates would opt out of traveling, so even an in-person BOD would have significant virtual components.
Most affected by the uncertainty were ALPA’s Strategic Member Development and Resources (SMD&R) and IT Departments. Staff from both departments usually begin planning and preparing for the next meeting as soon as the previous one ends.
For Event Planning staff, that preparation includes several site visits in advance to ascertain room setups and system requirements, meet with local vendors, nail down arrangements for special events, and finalize logistics. Typically, SMD&R and IT staff would work together to establish hardware and software needs for different offices and meeting rooms (e.g., monitors, printers, copiers, etc.) and rent the equipment from local vendors.
For this meeting, staff from both departments had to shift mid-course, increasing their planning efforts to ensure they’d be ready to hit the ground running whatever the decision.
One of the most important tasks they undertook was determining the best vendor to assist with the virtual aspects of the meeting, whether it was held partially in Florida or completely in Virginia.
After the onset of COVID-19, a multitude of “pop-up” companies were established to help organizations run virtual meetings, but SMD&R knew that ALPA would need an established company due to the logistics, security, and other variables involved in the BOD meeting. Varied access levels and voting permissions would be needed, in addition to a number of different online rooms for delegates—including the plenary room, committee rooms, caucus rooms, and master executive council rooms when requested.
A team consisting of staff from SMD&R, Communications, and IT reviewed multiple providers and with their recommendation, ALPA selected Meeting Tomorrow, an event technology company that’s been in business for almost two decades. And while there would be a learning curve on both sides, the company turned out to be an ideal partner.
Eventually the location decision was made for ALPA: the Hilton Diplomat, set to host the BOD, informed the Association in August that it wouldn’t be open for business in time for the meeting. ALPA staff now focused on holding a completely virtual BOD meeting from its Virginia offices.
During the Meeting
The Association’s BOD meeting is organized by its national officers with assistance from the BOD Steering Committee. Together with support from staff, they ensure that the agenda is set, plan and coordinate delegate committees, review the reports and proposed resolutions coming out of these committees, and oversee any necessary votes. Some aspect of just about every area of the BOD was changed due to the virtual setup.
“ALPA staff worked nonstop to prepare for a successful meeting,” said Capt. Mike Arcamuzi (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Steering Committee chair. “They tried to make the virtual BOD as close as possible to an in-person BOD meeting. Speaking for the Steering Committee, we think they achieved that goal.”
The first meeting touchpoint for delegates was registration. To avoid a crush of attendees attempting to register at the same time, delegates were assigned a registration time slot. Staff would collect the necessary information from the delegate, get a screenshot photo, and direct them to a virtual waiting room until the first plenary session began.
Why a screenshot? Every BOD meeting in the past has had a group photograph of that year’s delegates; it’s a part of ALPA history. At the suggestion of ALPA’s Digital and Creative Solutions team, the photos captured of 2020 delegates will be used to design a collage to memorialize this unique BOD experience.
Opening Plenary Session
Broadcasting from the McLean conference center at Valo Park, the national officers were set up at socially distanced podiums, which required multiple cameras for a smooth presentation. That in turn required a director of sorts, who was set up in ALPA’s new in-house studio, to switch from one camera to another. And because of limitations placed on the number of people allowed in the conference center, everyone needed to be able to communicate quickly no matter where they were.
Audio was another challenge. Providing in-room audio during the opening session could result in a constant echo, but for some sections audio was necessary. So staff had to be vigilant monitoring the audio.
In addition, the opening session was being broadcast over multiple streams—on Zoom for participating delegates, out to a small group of VIP nondelegate attendees, and via a webcast for the general public. Meeting Tomorrow and ALPA’s IT staff had to monitor those streams constantly and be ready to react if any issues arose.
Instead of having a keynote speaker at this year’s BOD, the meeting included a series of VIP videos produced by the Communications Department that featured industry stakeholders touting the benefits of ALPA’s voice in the airline industry.
After the plenary session, the delegates broke up into committees to begin working on agenda items and updating ALPA’s strategic plan (see “ALPA’s New Strategic Plan”). This was a major virtual logistical area, as eight delegate committees meant eight separate rooms for the delegates and invited speakers as well as an additional eight separate nondelegate streams of the delegate committee rooms, all with specific permissions for each room.
To allow for Steering Committee oversight, IT staff set up eight laptops together, with Arcamuzi and Capt. Brian Roseen (Sun Country), a Steering Committee member, each manning four at a time. “We split responsibility of the delegate committees by workload,” said Roseen. “The heaviest lift was trying to monitor each room using separate headphones for each laptop while monitoring the overall activity in the coordination center. It was a multitasking process that required a different skill set from speaking in person.”
There was much discussion before the meeting about how Robert’s Rules of Order applied in a virtual environment. All delegate committee chairs received information prior to the meeting, and a guide was posted to ALPA’s BOD website for delegates to review.
Debate and Voting
There was a question of whether debate would flow in a virtual setting or if attendees would be less likely to speak in an online atmosphere. While some hiccups occurred, the national officers and Steering Committee were able to use the technology to provide the same level of debate and discussion as in an in-person meeting.
The virtual nature of the meeting, however, made voice votes difficult; in an online atmosphere, it’s nearly impossible to tell how many people are speaking at once. So unless a vote was unanimous, voting went to a division of the house where delegates had to log on to a secured poll to cast their votes. Delegates always had an opportunity to call for a roll-call vote on any issue
For the one roll call conducted in plenary, Couette called on the registered delegates to cast their allotted votes, which are determined by the number of active members in good standing they represent. The number was recorded in an in-house database, designed to tally and ultimately report the results of the vote.
SMD&R and IT worked together to anticipate any voting issues and concerns and test those ahead of time to ensure that everyone who was allowed to vote could. When a problem arose, they quickly worked to determine what the issue was. Then if needed, IT contacted those who were having trouble voting to resolve the issue.
EVP and Canada Board Officer Elections
During a regular BOD meeting, briefings by the vice president–administration/secretary would typically lead up to Groups A, Groups B, and Group C caucuses where executive vice president (EVP) and Canada Board officer elections are held. In a virtual world, these meetings aren’t as easily scheduled. So ALPA’s Balloting staff planned ahead and sent out EVP caucus briefings before the BOD. A meeting during the BOD was also held before the caucuses to answer any questions the caucus chairs and secretaries had.
Some of these elements may even be carried forward. “We were able to save some time in certain areas prior to the start of the BOD meeting, such as the distribution of material and premeeting planning sessions, that we can potentially apply to our next meeting in 2022,” said Couette.
Behind the Scenes
While the BOD meeting lasted just three days, the national officers, Steering Committee members, and staff coordinated for months on the behind-the-scenes work.
SMD&R met with Meeting Tomorrow to go over ALPA’s unique terminology so that everyone was “speaking the same language” and rooms were set up exactly as needed.
At the same time, ALPA staff and pilot leaders worked to educate attendees about how a virtual meeting would operate. ALPA typically sends out a delegates manual that covers important information such as hotel and personal arrangements, registration, meeting procedures and protocols, and more. For 2020, SMD&R developed a series of topic-specific messages that covered much of this information as well as how to set up a Zoom account, what time to register, how to get back online if booted, how to ask a question, and how to vote.
Delegates received communications just about every other day leading up to the BOD with important information regarding the agenda for the meeting as well as making sure everyone was well prepared on the virtual logistics.
Redundancy was a key word. For every process created for the meeting, SMD&R made sure to have a backup plan, just in case. If technical difficulties arose in a delegate committee room, another option needed to be ready to move to right away. There were many dress rehearsals to ensure things went as smoothly as possible.
For the IT Department, the biggest concern was testing the stream. Although ALPA successfully hosted the two 2020 Executive Board meetings virtually, staff wasn’t able to run tests approximating the sheer size and scale of the BOD. However, they were able to review actions and requirements from the Executive Board meetings, apply them to the BOD, anticipate issues, and brainstorm solutions.
The same can be said for the Communications Department and the audio and visual presentation of the BOD. While ALPA has been at its McLean offices since August 2019, construction on the studio on the first floor of the building was just completed a few weeks prior to the BOD. As a result, all the wires and connections needed to be tested to ensure that the national officer reports and special video presentations were broadcast without issue.
While the 2020 BOD was a success, few want to see a repeat—the in-person aspects are so important to camaraderie and team building. But all agreed that ALPA’s pilot leaders and staff rose to the occasion and helped make the BOD the best it could be under difficult circumstances. “The coordination and communication among all of ALPA’s departments and staff played a tremendous role in making this year’s BOD meeting a success,” said David Krieger, ALPA’s general manager. “They adapted quickly to the new reality and made sure that our pilot leaders were able to continue the important business of running the Association. I couldn’t be prouder of everyone involved.”
“The work that the staff did was second to none,” Couette observed. “This is something ALPA has never done before, and we did it with less lead time than normal—and in one less day. My hat’s off to everyone involved.”
A Look Behind the Scenes
Watch to see the staff and resources involved in hosting ALPA’s Board of Directors meeting.