Getting ‘Ready for the Future’ at R&I Seminar

By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer
Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, welcomes attendees to the Retirement & Insurance Seminar.

ALPA held its annual Retirement & Insurance (R&I) Seminar May 2–3 at the Association’s conference center in McLean, Va., bringing together approximately 50 pilot volunteers from 16 pilot groups in the United States and Canada.

With a theme of “Ready for the Future,” the seminar provided the volunteers with important insights and allowed them to further their knowledge in the ever-changing area of benefits.

Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, welcomed attendees, reminding them that “our profession is stronger when we work together.” He highlighted the contractual gains that many ALPA pilot groups have achieved and noted that these gains “allow us to now put an emphasis on retirement.”

“We’re continuously working to find new ways to improve benefits for our members,” said Capt. Jon Erickson (Delta), the Association’s R&I Committee chair. These improvements, he said, can come via collective bargaining, ALPA insurance offerings, and the Association’s efforts lobbying for or against national and state/provincial legislation.

The seminar provided information in these areas and others, with presenters from ALPA’s R&I Committee and master executive council R&I Committees, the Association’s Representation Department R&I team that supports them in their work, and experts representing related outside firms.

“The role you’ve volunteered for is important work, and it’s critical work,” Andrew Shostack, director of ALPA’s Representation Department, told attendees. “And that importance is constantly increasing.” He cited a growing number of pilots approaching retirement age as well as a shift in emphasis on work-life balance as factors in that increase.

Much of the discussion focused on “cornerstone” benefits: retirement, health care, disability coverage, and life insurance.

Within those cornerstones, subject-matter experts reviewed the trends in health, retirement, and disability plans; supplemental retirement plans such as market-based cash-balance plans; member benefits; estate planning; and more.

Attendees also received an update from the Department of Labor (DOL) and from ALPA’s Government Affairs Department.

Ali Khawar, acting assistant secretary for the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, shared information on departmental priorities in retirement security, pharmacy benefits, cybersecurity, and upcoming areas of emphasis.

He highlighted mental-health parity in health care, requiring similar mental-health-care coverage within health insurance, calling it “our number-one enforcement priority right now.” Khawar also spoke about the increasing focus on pharmacy benefit managers and the possibility of regulating this high-cost area.

David Martin, senior legislative representative from ALPA’s Government Affairs Department, reviewed the work the Association is doing at the state level in addition to its work in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. He noted that in some states airlines are attempting to influence legislation to carve out airline employees from certain state leave and benefits laws and that ALPA has focused on fighting these attempts. Due to the Association’s advocacy efforts, the Minnesota Senate recently passed a bill that will allow flight crews to avail themselves of state sick leave benefits (see page 12).

Capt. Travis Ludwig, (United) ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Pilot Assistance Group chair, spoke about the recent FAA Mental Health and Aviation Medical Clearances Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which he cochaired representing ALPA, and how it touches on R&I. Increased emphasis on mental-health parity and the inclusion of mental-health coverage in disability plans were two of the committee’s recommendations Ludwig highlighted.

The event closed with a panel of staff benefits specialists sharing their experience working with MEC committees and best practices. They emphasized the importance of multiple levels of communication: within the MEC R&I Committee, with MEC leaders, with other MEC committees, with ALPA’s R&I Committee, with other ALPA staff, with the company, and with pilot members.

Q&A and networking opportunities throughout the seminar allowed attendees to learn from the successes of their peers, as well as from the presenters and outside experts. “The collaboration and cross-pollination we’ve seen this week is a great way to raise us all up,” said Dan White, managing benefits attorney for ALPA’s R&I staff.

“You have a wealth of knowledge in this room,” Erickson reminded participants. “Make sure you continue to network with each other. Open and honest communication will provide improvements for all of our pilots.”

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

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