The Latest Advances in the Benefits World

By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer
Capt. Joseph Genovese, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, welcomes attendees to ALPA's Retirement & Insurance Seminar.

As part of their preparation for the next round of contract negotiations, roughly 55 pilots from 13 ALPA pilot groups attended the Association’s Retirement and Insurance (R&I) Seminar held October 2–3 at the union’s McLean, Va., offices.

“Bargaining any issue but especially benefits and retirement programs is not a quick fix,” said Capt. Joseph Genovese, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, who welcomed attendees to the seminar. “It takes preparation, patience, and persistence.”

The last few rounds of negotiations have tended to focus on returning pay-rate levels to prebankruptcy-era levels. The focus now is on improving pilot retirement and other benefits to provide for a more robust compensation package.

“Retirement and benefits are extremely important,” explained Capt. Ken Binder (FedEx Express), chair of ALPA’s R&I Committee, who led the seminar. “So we need to educate our pilot volunteers to the highest levels possible.”

Genovese noted, “While many people find terms such as diversification and deductibles daunting, you’ve stepped up to work in R&I, which is one of the most important areas for our pilots.” Binder added, “It’s important to have pilots working on these topics because we know what pilots go through and what pilots need.”

Members of ALPA’s R&I Committee, R&I Department staff, and outside experts from numerous benefits firms led sessions on the evolution of health plans, defined benefits vs. defined contribution plans, 401(k)s, investment outlooks, Canadian benefits, health-care plans, plan governance, and more.

In each area, attendees learned about what’s available, what’s trending, what’s working/not working elsewhere, and ways they can share the information provided to their own pilot group. Almost every session ended with time for questions, allowing for extra, personalized feedback.

Capt. Sid Graham (Alaska) commented on the breadth of the topics and quality of discussion. “This is the best R&I seminar I’ve been to yet,” he said. “It’s very engaging, even for someone like me who’s been to many of them.”

Pilots were constantly reminded to network, work together, and build on each other’s knowledge and experience. Genovese urged attendees, “Share your failures and how you addressed them. Share your tactics and how you developed them. And share your successes and how you earned them.” Many followed that suggestion, with discussions throughout the seminar on how the volunteers can learn from each other and advance their priorities thanks to the hard work of their union brothers and sisters.

F/O Jeffrey Hicks (Frontier), chair of his pilot group’s R&I Committee, attended not only to present on a benefits topic but also to gain knowledge and contact information.

“The technical knowledge I gained this week alone was worth it,” said Hicks. “But the relationships I’ve started are even more important—I now know the people on FedEx’s committee, and Delta’s committee, and all the others.” Best of all, he noted, was the sense of unity. “No one treated it like, ‘I’m FedEx and you’re Frontier.’ Instead it was, ‘We’re all ALPA.’ And that’s such a help to us as we get started on our committee.”

Hicks’s presentation demonstrated how pilot groups can work together to address concerns—sometimes even before they’re widely known. Hicks noted that he suffered an injury a few years ago and was on disability pay for a lengthy period of time. He discovered that his contributions to his 401(k) were frozen while on disability pay. Missing two, three, or more years of retirement contributions can greatly affect retirement savings. Hicks introduced colleagues—many of whom weren’t even aware of this potential negative situation—to an insurance option available to help pilots maintain their 401(k) contributions during disability and suggested it be included in future bargaining.

“It’s an exciting time to be in retirement and insurance with a lot of exciting options,” said Binder, “and the R&I Department did a fantastic job during this seminar of providing our pilots with the information they need. We want our volunteers to take away that information as well as the knowledge that there’s no best way to handle R&I. Reach out, ask about what you don’t know, and constantly educate yourself.”

This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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