JetBlue Pilots Celebrate 10 Years as ALPA Members

By Jen Lofquist, ALPA Communications Strategist
From left, Capt. Keith McClanahan, JetBlue Master Executive Council (MEC) vice chair; Capt. Justin Houck, MEC chair; and Capt. Cody Stroope, MEC secretary-treasurer, celebrate the pilot group’s 10th anniversary of joining ALPA.

On April 24, JetBlue pilots and ALPA national officers, including Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, gathered to celebrate the pilot group’s 10th anniversary of joining the Association. The event took place at Spolini’s restaurant in Kew Gardens, N.Y., a location that holds a significant place in the history of the pilot group. The fearless JetBlue pilots who led the ALPA organizing campaign in 2014 often met at Spolini’s as they worked to make the pilots the first employee group at JetBlue represented by a union. This campaign exposed the fundamental flaws in the company’s purported “direct relationship” with its employees and demonstrated the compelling benefits of collective bargaining and legal representation. On April 23, 2014, the National Mediation Board certified ALPA as the JetBlue pilots’ collective bargaining representative following a resounding vote by the pilots in favor of joining the Association.

“Ten years ago, JetBlue pilots recognized that our best shot at leveling up our careers and securing our financial future was through banding together and bargaining collectively, with the legal backing of the Railway Labor Act,” said Capt. Justin Houck, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “Since then, that decision has proven itself time and time again—whether we’re protecting pilot jobs in the face of a global pandemic or negotiating a succession of pay increases and other improvements to working conditions.”

Since joining the Association, the pilot group—and ALPA—have grown substantially. In 2014, there were approximately 2,600 JetBlue pilots. Today, there are nearly 5,000, making the pilot group one of ALPA’s largest. In 2022, Capt. Wes Clapper became the first JetBlue pilot to be elected an ALPA national officer when he was voted vice president–finance/treasurer. The impressive growth of the pilot group has paralleled ALPA’s growth as a whole over the past decade (see “The Landing” in the April 2024 issue).

“JetBlue pilots paved the way for other airline workers to find strength in numbers and fight for collective bargaining rights. In fact, since JetBlue joined, nearly 30,000 pilots have become ALPA members, and, as a result, we find our union stronger than ever,” Ambrosi said. “Through the power of unionism, we’ve made great strides in raising the bar for pilot contracts across the industry and strengthening our profession overall. There’s more work to do, but the JetBlue example is a powerful reminder that when we stand in solidarity and take collective action, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.”

Although the event focused on celebrating this milestone for the pilot group, it was also a chance to recognize the contributions of union volunteers. Houck presented Capt. Jim Bigham, the first elected JetBlue MEC chair, with the inaugural Union Service Award, recognizing his years of service to the union and his selfless dedication to all JetBlue pilots and his profession. Bigham currently serves as the JetBlue executive vice president, representing the pilot group’s interests on ALPA’s Executive Council.

While the pilots are immensely proud of their history, their attention and focus are squarely on their future. In early April, the pilots served JetBlue Airways with written notice of their intent to open negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement that will build on both the first contact ratified in 2018 and the economic improvements achieved in the contract extension ratified in early 2023. On April 30, the pilots’ Negotiating Committee met with the company to begin bargaining.

“The past 10 years have shown JetBlue pilots the power of a unified, committed pilot group and the benefits of being ALPA members,” Houck remarked. “As we begin the next 10 years of being part of ALPA, we’ll continue to demonstrate the strength of this unity. JetBlue pilots are full partners in our company’s success and growth—and expect a contract that recognizes these contributions.”

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

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