Executive Board Finalizes Historic ACPA Merger, Welcomes Air Canada Pilots

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, at the podium, welcomes attendees of the 132nd regular meeting of ALPA’s Executive Board.

The Executive Board made history during its 132nd regular meeting, when this ALPA governing body approved by acclamation a resolution to merge the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) with the union. This was the final step in a systematic process to weigh the feasibility, mutual interest, and benefits of merging the two unions.

Prior to this momentous decision, Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, addressed the board, observing, “When this body votes, it will help fulfill ALPA’s pilot unity resolution, which affirms our goal to provide representation for all members of the airline piloting profession in the United States and Canada.” He acknowledged that the two unions had considered such a partnership in the past, but noted, “The difference this time is that leadership on both sides felt we were stronger together.”

With votes cast and the resolution unanimously supported, F/O Charlene Hudy, chair of the former ACPA Master Elected Council, spoke to ALPA’s Executive Board as head of the union’s newest pilot group. “Air Canada pilots voted overwhelmingly to end our isolation and rejoin the professional pilot community,” she remarked. “We’re thrilled to be the 40th pilot group joining this international union alongside our Canadian colleagues, which now includes 95 percent of the entire professional pilot group in Canada.”

The ACPA merger decision was one of 16 resolutions the Executive Board deliberated on during its May 17–18 meeting. The board also received reports from ALPA’s national officers as well as several Association subject-matter experts on key issues and initiatives, and presented a special award to a long-standing ALPA volunteer and revered colleague.

Officer Briefings

Ambrosi gave the first of the four national officer reports, acknowledging the enormous sacrifices pilots made during the pandemic and the “climbout of the economic downturn now at full throttle.” He pointed out significant contract gains made at Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, and Delta, and the tentative agreement negotiated at Amerijet International.

Ambrosi observed, “Even as we now focus on contract implementation and compliance at many pilot groups, our union is directing its ‘War Chest’ and other critical resources toward the nearly half of our pilot groups that continue to negotiate with managements who still refuse to acknowledge our value.” ALPA’s president talked about the contract negotiating efforts at FedEx Express, United, and WestJet to build upon the pattern-bargaining inroads set by other ALPA pilot groups.

He reviewed the Association’s most pressing priorities, including the global grassroots advocacy campaign “Safety Starts with Two,” which stresses the need to maintain two well-rested and qualified pilots on the airline flight deck at all times. ALPA, working together with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations and the European Cockpit Association, along with three global pilot alliances, launched this effort at the May 2023 Global Pilots’ Symposium in Montréal, Qué.

Capt. Wendy Morse, ALPA’s first vice president and national safety coordinator, outlined the crucial work being conducted by the Association’s Air Safety Organization, through its Aviation Safety, Aviation Security, Aviation Jumpseat, and Pilot Assistance Groups. She began by relating the Jumpseat Group’s efforts to coordinate interline jumpseat access for WestJet pilots in the case of a strike at their property. Fortunately, the WestJet pilots were able to reach an agreement-in-principle on a new contract and voted to ratify the agreement.

Morse asserted, “As you know, there have been safety issues and concerns that have arisen in the first part of the year,” pointing to examples like a NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) system failure, pilot incapacitations, runway incursions, lithium battery–related incidents, continuing encounters with unruly passengers, and other issues. “My job is to make sure our volunteers have the resources they need to do their work,” she said, also acknowledging the many aviation industry stakeholders ALPA continues to work with to effectively address these concerns.

“ALPA has been in the middle of a truly dynamic phase since this governing body met last September,” commented Capt. Tyler Hawkins, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary, referencing the remarkable hiring taking place in the airline industry and the rapid turnover particularly experienced at fee-for-departure carriers. He observed that nearly 17 percent of all members fall under the Association’s apprentice or reactivated categories. Hawkins also spotlighted the enormous amount of turnover in the union’s leadership ranks and the action the Association is undertaking to manage it.

He provided an overview of ALPA’s efforts to update its information technology infrastructure, including a new cloud-computing platform as well as a new website platform. Hawkins also talked about the important work of the Education; Leadership; Membership; and Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Inclusion Committees as part of ALPA’s Professional Development Group. “One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as your vice president–administration/secretary is to be a part of ALPA’s growing campaign to cultivate and empower the next generation of airline pilots,” he stated, highlighting many of the recent activities and events these committees have supported to help both current and future members.

Capt. Wes Clapper, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, reviewed the solid financial status of the Association, which had a reported year-to-date net income of $37.1 million and a net gain on investments of $14.6 million. He spoke about his work with ALPA’s Structure, Services, and Finance Review Committee to find ways to make the Association’s finances more accessible to individual pilot groups, noting, “Currently many councils can’t spend their funds to meet the needs of their pilots due to outdated policy.”

Clapper also talked about recent changes implemented through the Major Contingency Fund (MCF) Contract Implementation program. “To date, 11 MECs [master executive councils] have received grants from this program that provides funding to support contract implementation and grievances in the postcontract year, when funds often aren’t readily available to ensure that your new agreement is adhered to. These grants are automatically provided to every pilot group upon signing a contract, with no strings attached and nothing to pay back,” he observed.

ALPA Executive Board - Spring 2023

Embracing Change

The Executive Board also heard from Capt. Tim Perry, ALPA Canada president. “This is my first opportunity to join you all in this capacity as ALPA Canada president, thanks to the changes we made at the Board of Directors last year,” he noted. With the Air Canada vote on the agenda, Perry remarked that ALPA would represent 11,000 Canadian members, adding, “Our future is bright, and there’s no end to what we’ll accomplish together.”

Perry discussed the recent work of ALPA Canada, including its efforts to engage members of Parliament and Transport Canada on airline pilot priorities. He reviewed ongoing talks to improve fatigue rules, the status of the restricted area identity card and pilot security screening at airports, work to curb 5G C-Band interference on radar altimeters, the expansion of true north navigation (using Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast), the use of replacement workers, and other issues. Perry also highlighted the efforts of two other Canadian pilot groups pursuing ALPA representation.

During breakout sessions, the attending MEC chairs, who make up ALPA’s Executive Board (together with the Executive Council who serves as ex-officio members), split into four delegate committees to review resolutions that, once approved, would be voted on by the board during the plenary session. Board members subsequently approved a $2 million MCF grant for the Air Transport International pilots to be used for their strategic preparedness, communications, and family awareness programs, after more than three years of contract negotiations. In addition, the board passed a resolution defining how local councils may conduct meetings virtually through secure Internet connections to multiple meeting locations to promote member participation.

Executive Board members approved an assessment for the payment of strike benefits to eligible WestJet pilots, should a strike be declared. They also authorized the Association’s reaffiliation with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

Other decisions included more than a half dozen amendments to Section 60 of the Association’s Administrative Manual, outlining policy changes related to spending limits and fiscal responsibility. The resolutions ranged from an Operating Contingency Fund policy update addressing instances when airlines cease operations to efforts to increase transparency of ALPA’s Pilot Welfare Benefit Plan, which provides long-term disability, life insurance, critical illness, accident, dental, and Medicare Advantage benefits to ALPA members.

Member Recognition

“When this national officer team came into office, we felt it appropriate to recognize exceptional volunteerism on the industrial side,” said Ambrosi, acknowledging the need to balance the many accolades presented to active pilot volunteers for their aviation safety and security efforts. “Therefore, in January, the Executive Council voted to approve the establishment of the Andrew J. Hughes Presidential Citation for Outstanding Volunteerism to recognize ALPA members who during the course of their careers made extraordinary contributions to the Association, its members, and trade unionism for their ALPA work,” he said.

The first Andrew J. Hughes Presidential Citation was presented during the meeting to Capt. Ken Binder (FedEx Express). Commenting on the most recent chair of ALPA’s Retirement & Insurance Committee and the Association’s Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association Board, Ambrosi noted, “FedEx Capt. Ken Binder has been a champion for pilots and their families worldwide. Throughout his career, he has selflessly served his fellow pilots in numerous local and national union capacities.”

The meeting attendees watched a prepared video featuring dozens of ALPA members and staff praising Binder for his knowledge, leadership, and welcoming spirit. Binder and his wife, Julie, who were unable to attend the meeting, joined by live video stream and were greeted with a standing ovation.

This special honor was established as a tribute to Capt. Andy Hughes (Mesa), a former ALPA executive vice president and MEC chair. “An airline pilot, an ALPA member, a leader, a trade unionist, and a dear friend who left us far too early,” Ambrosi remarked.

Other plenary session presentations included a briefing on the growing threat of reduced-crew operations (RCO), led by Capt. Bill Secord (FedEx Express), an ALPA executive vice president and RCO Committee chair, and Capt. John Sluys (Alaska), ALPA’s international affairs coordinator.

Noting aircraft manufacturers’ willingness to gamble with safety by removing pilots from the flight deck, Secord stated, “Any new developments must enhance safety and support at least two qualified, well-rested pilots on the flight deck at all times.” He stressed the value of both ALPA-PAC and the Association’s legislative channels in the union’s efforts to influence decision-makers. Referencing the need to contact members of Congress, he asserted, “The time to make friends is when you don’t need them.”

Sluys outlined ALPA’s role in the global “Safety Starts with Two” campaign to combat the inherent dangers of reducing current flight deck complements and stressed the importance of the same clear and concise messaging campaign at all ALPA pilot groups, observing that MECs and local executive councils will communicate details about the campaign with their members to support pilot participation.

Launched on March 27, the "Safety Starts with 2" website is part of a joint effort to reach the international community and broader aviation industry in conjunction with the ongoing advocacy campaign.

A panel discussion featuring Ambrosi; Elizabeth Baker, ALPA’s Government Affairs Department director; David Weaver, ALPA’s Communications Department director; Stacey Bechdolt, ALPA’s Engineering & Air Safety assistant director; and Ann Matejicka, ALPA Canada Government Affairs representative, highlighted the Association’s top legislative priorities. The group gave special attention to the FAA reauthorization bill due this fall and ongoing efforts by others in the aviation industry to erode first officer minimums and qualifications. The group also reviewed the proposed Fair and Open Skies Act, which prevents flag-of-convenience airlines from accessing U.S. markets.

Dr. Quay Snyder, the president/CEO and cofounder of the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS), discussed the 54 years his organization has served as the Association’s aeromedical office and the office’s engagement with ALPA members. In the first quarter of 2023, AMAS had contact with 17,874 pilots. Snyder stressed, “Every call is absolutely confidential,” adding that, “the pilot is in control of what information goes anywhere.”

The Executive Board took a live video tour of the WestJet pilots’ strike center, and Hawkins discussed the union’s strategic plan, approved by the Board of Directors last fall, noting that an initial progress report is available online.

In addition, Capt. A.J. Berlotti (Alaska), the Aviation Jumpseat chair, and Capt. Wolfgang Koch (Delta), the Aviation Security chair, reviewed the activities and ongoing priorities of their respective committees. Capt. Sean Creed (Spirit), ALPA’s national resource coordinator and Strategic Planning Committee lead, spoke about the important ways ALPA provides support and resources to pilot groups preparing for and executing successful contract negotiations.

The next Executive Board meeting will take place November 18–20 at ALPA’s McLean, Va., offices.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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