ALPA Introduces New Format for Negotiations Training Seminar

Provides an Introduction to the Art

By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer
Capt. Wendy Morse, ALPA’s first vice president, addresses attendees of ALPA’s recent Negotiations Training Seminar.

Nearly 30 pilots from 12 ALPA pilot groups convened at ALPA’s McLean, Va., offices April 23–25 for the Negotiations Training Seminar. This was the first of the new two-phase seminar, with the introductory meeting held in spring and an advanced course planned for fall.

“This is a huge undertaking you’re about to start,” said Capt. Wendy Morse, ALPA’s first vice president, of the attendees’ forthcoming negotiations work on behalf of their pilots. She noted her time spent as member, vice chair, and then chair of the United Master Executive Council (MEC) Negotiating Committee, saying, “I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

Brand-new volunteers mixed with experienced negotiators, providing both an introductory learning experience and a ready-made networking group. “We’ve been successful in pattern bargaining because we’re constantly talking to each other,” explained Capt. Doug Grant (Hawaiian), a member of ALPA’s Collective Bargaining Committee. “When you have a question or hit a roadblock at the negotiating table, you can call on those who’ve been through it.”

As one presenter noted, pilots will likely never realize everything their Negotiating Committee does for them, their lives, and their careers. But the importance of that work can’t be understated.

“How many times are you going to get a new contract in your career?” asked Bruce York, ALPA’s recently retired senior advisor and chief negotiator. “So the effect of each one has significant implications.”

The seminar included informational presentations regarding the basics of negotiating as well as a series of hands-on exercises and simulations designed to let the pilots experience the process in a controlled atmosphere. Each exercise built on the one prior, with guidance and feedback from experienced pilot negotiators and ALPA staff.

Topics covered the negotiations process from start to finish, including an introduction to collective bargaining, learning the right questions to ask when moving through a negotiation, a guide to presenting proposals, communications strategies, and tips for the final push for a contract.

Andrew Shostack, director of ALPA’s Representation Department, began the seminar with six key takeaways:

  1. Preparation is key. “Plan, plan, plan,” he remarked.
  2. Use collaborative decision-making.
  3. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.
  4. The pilots’ Negotiating Committee is on equal footing with the management team.
  5. Negotiations isn’t a rule-driven process.
  6. The negotiations timeline isn’t intuitive.

Throughout the seminar, presenters focused on the importance of planning and communication and the various elements of each. Attendees reviewed strategic, negotiations, process, and communications planning, while the need to communicate consistently and in multiple directions—between a variety of committees, between the MEC and Negotiating Committee, between the MEC and the pilot group, and vice versa—was underscored.

Participants started with an exercise designed to emphasize the importance of putting a plan together as a team and moved next to a group conversation on identifying interests. From there, they worked on establishing a collaborative process to ensure that all voices are heard and then went through a mock presentation. They received input and feedback on their participation throughout.

The seminar culminated with an in-depth simulated negotiation designed to allow attendees to put all the pieces together from the previous exercises and presentations. The pilots were split into union and management negotiating teams and provided with details for negotiating a letter of agreement to address an external crisis. The participants learned how to prioritize issues in a negotiation, communicate effectively at the bargaining table to move toward an agreement, and ultimately close an agreement while considering their best alternative to a negotiated agreement.

In addition to the introductory material and hands-on exercises, the seminar also included sessions designed to share experiences from those who’ve “been there and done that.”

Capt. Phil Otis (United) and Capt. Michael Wilson (United), Negotiating Committee and Communications Committee chairs, respectively, for their pilot group during their recent contract negotiation, discussed how they used both planning and communication to bring their pilot group from a failed tentative agreement to a successful contract that was overwhelmingly ratified.

On the final day of the seminar, a panel of experienced negotiators shared stories regarding how they “closed the deal” at their respective airlines. Attendees were able to ask questions and gain insights from the discussion.

The second Negotiations Training Seminar for 2024 will take place in September and feature more advanced topics and breakouts to further assist pilot negotiators in their important work.

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

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