Raise Your Hand: ALPA Needs You
By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer
So you think you might want to become an ALPA volunteer?
“ALPA’s volunteers are the heart and soul of the Association,” Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, has commented. “Without them, our union doesn’t move forward and doesn’t earn the success that we’ve achieved. Everything that ALPA makes possible for our pilots and the industry is thanks to our volunteers.”
You’ve likely often heard that the line pilot drives the Association, and without pilot volunteers ALPA doesn’t run. But you may not be aware that you’d be stepping forward at one of the best possible times in the history of ALPA for volunteering. Why’s that? Before answering that question, let’s first take a look at the types of volunteers and the areas in which you could contribute.
Guiding your pilot group are your elected representatives—local council leaders, such as the first officer representative and captain representative (or status block representatives in certain pilot groups). Your local executive council (LEC) and master executive council (MEC) chair, vice chair, and secretary-treasurer are then elected from these representatives.
These volunteers are typically the first or main point of contact for pilots in need of information or assistance. These reps hear from their pilots about disciplinary issues, paycheck disputes, scheduling errors, and more. At the same time, they also represent their pilots in ALPA’s governance structure as the Association is run from the bottom up.
In a smaller pilot group with just one local council, the LEC and MEC positions are one and the same. When a pilot group has multiple LECs, the MEC leaders are elected from the full group of LEC representatives, while each LEC retains its own separate leadership structure.
While these are all elected positions, the pilots who run for the positions are still volunteers who give their time and expertise on behalf of their fellow pilots. The responsibilities are primarily organizational and administrative, from running meetings to organizing committees (see below). These elected volunteers are also part of ALPA’s Board of Directors, which meets every two years and develops and approves the Association’s strategic plan, along with electing executive vice presidents every two years and national officers every four years.
Each MEC has a committee structure composed of volunteers involved in a specific area. Foundational MEC committees include Hotel, Grievance, Scheduling, Membership, Training, Communications, Government Affairs, Retirement & Insurance, and more.
Volunteers on these committees typically have a particular interest in the subject matter and often start with some level of expertise—but that’s not always necessary. Mentoring from current committee members can get you up to speed, and ALPA also offers annual meetings or conferences to help train members of specific committees.
In addition to these committees, pilot groups will also usually have Safety, Security, Pilot Assistance, and Jumpseat Committees (see “ASO Structure”). The volunteers on each committee are or become subject-matter experts in the area.
Training is available, with ALPA’s Air Safety Organization (ASO) holding multiple courses each year to support pilot volunteers. A recent addition to ALPA’s national budget also includes funding assistance for smaller MECs to help their volunteers get the training they need. Your MEC secretary-treasurer can talk to their ALPA national counterpart for details.
ALPA’s ASO is structured under the four pillars of Aviation Safety, Aviation Security, Pilot Assistance, and Aviation Jumpseat. Depending on the size of your MEC, the MEC committees could be as general as these four areas, or they may include specific committees such as Fatigue, ASAP, HIMS, Professional Standards, Critical Incident Response Program, UAS, and others.
These committees consist of volunteer subject-matter experts or those looking to become one (ALPA offers training in most areas). These volunteers are the point of contact for fellow MEC members who have questions on the topic, so it’s usually preferred that the volunteer comes on board with as much familiarity with the subject as possible.
Volunteers at the national level are typically selected from the various MEC committees, but a path does exist to these committees if you’re interested. The chairs of the MECs’ Safety, Security, Jumpseat, and Training Committees make up the relevant councils at the ASO level—e.g., Safety Council, Jumpseat Council—and ALPA’s first vice president, who acts as the national safety coordinator and head of the ASO, coordinates with the respective ASO chairs to appoint members from the volunteer ranks.
Now’s the Time
As mentioned earlier, volunteers who are currently stepping forward are doing it at one of the best possible times in the history of ALPA—and the reason is twofold.
First, during the pandemic, several airlines offered pilots early retirement, with thousands accepting the offer. And second, thousands of other pilots are scheduled to retire in the next few years.
Among those who’ve already retired and are scheduled to retire are many longtime ALPA volunteers whose knowledge, work ethic, and contributions have been a tremendous asset to the union. Right now, you have an opportunity to learn from these current volunteers and gain from their institutional knowledge before they retire.
To replace retiring pilots, airlines are hiring at a rapid pace. ALPA’s fee-for-departure pilot groups are experiencing tremendous turnover and the loss of many volunteers. So it’s even more important for pilots at fee-for-departure carriers to volunteer their expertise, even if they plan on being at the airline for a relatively short period of time. Pilot volunteers are the backbone of the Association, and now more than ever the need for volunteers is immense.
Where to Begin?
Okay, so you’ve decided to volunteer but you’re not sure where.
Capt. Tyler Hawkins, ALPA’s vice president/administration–secretary, suggests two potential positions as a “foot in the door” to get started: an airport safety liaison (ASL) and a member of the Pilot-to-Pilot Committee.
ASLs work as a conduit between airports and ALPA, providing the line-pilot perspective on any number of issues at the airport and keeping the lines of communication open. Volunteers are needed at every airport, and while many positions are filled, there are vacancies for a number of airports.
Members of the Pilot-to-Pilot Committee are tasked with sharing pertinent news and information with their fellow pilots. The committee works to ensure line pilots receive accurate information about the issues they care about most.
“These are great positions to get started with in your volunteer career,” explained Hawkins, “because they don’t typically take a lot of time but they can still have a huge impact. There tend to be multiple openings so that volunteers can step right in. However, these positions aren’t the only avenues to volunteering. There’s a starting pathway for everyone who wants to get involved.”
Finding Your Path
Once you’ve taken the first step, you can then look at where there’s a need for assistance, where you feel you can best contribute, and where those overlap.
A good next step is to look at your background and areas of interest. Do they align with any committees? What are your hobbies? What did you study in college? What interests you but you haven’t had time for? Once you’ve answered these questions, talk with your LEC or MEC leaders and ask if there are openings in those areas.
Also talk with your fellow pilots. “Whether in the crew room, on the flight deck, or at a layover hotel, your coworkers are a great sounding board,” Hawkins remarked. “Ask them if they volunteer and learn from them. If your pilot group has DART, throw a DART to your committee of interest for more information. Current volunteers can give their perspectives regarding the time and effort involved and answer any questions you have.”
You’ll likely hear from many volunteers about the importance of giving back. That’s what drives many ALPA pilots to step up and raise their hands to volunteer. “Think back through your own career; when have others provided you a helping hand or given you an important piece of advice?” asked Ambrosi. “Now imagine being in a position to do that for others—helping other pilots when they need support and ensuring that we leave a stronger profession for future generations.”
No matter the path you choose, ALPA is here to help you every step of the way. For example, ALPA hosts an annual Leadership Training Conference for all newly elected reps to provide guidance and an introduction to the Association’s vast resources. The ASO hosts multiple training sessions, including Foundational ALPA Service Training 101, a course for ALPA volunteers that serves as an introduction to the ASO.
There are membership conferences, negotiating seminars, pilot assistance symposiums, retirement and insurance meetings, and more to guide you in your chosen area. In addition, there’s ALPA’s experienced and professional staff members—including attorneys, negotiators, communications specialists, financial analysts, benefits experts, creative designers, and more—available to help with anything you need.
If you’re still not sure where you might want to volunteer, you can simply ask where there’s the greatest need. Your MEC leaders can help point you in the right direction.
A Final Word
ALPA is pilot run and staff supported, and pilot volunteers are vital to the continued success and growth of the Association. However, volunteer positions do take time and effort—some more than others. Take a look at your schedule before you volunteer and make sure you have the time to take on the responsibilities of the position. Include your spouse and family in any decision; they’ll be the ones delaying dinner or family game night when those calls come in.
“Volunteering is our highest calling as union members. I truly believe that there’s a position at ALPA for anyone who wants to give back,” said Ambrosi. “And the need has never been greater. I urge anyone even considering it to raise your hand.
“Volunteering for your union is a rewarding choice, and a great way to pay it forward. Review your interests and expertise, talk to your MEC leaders, and learn what support and training ALPA can provide. We look forward to welcoming you on board soon,” Ambrosi added.
Still not sure where to look for volunteer opportunities? See which phrase best describes you and then which areas might be a good fit.
- Caring and thoughtful: Look at the Pilot Assistance structure.
- An advocate at heart: The Government Affairs Committee or grassroots action might be right for you.
- Detailed, good with numbers: You might be a great secretary-treasurer.
- Focused on safety and security: Your master executive council Safety or Security Committee or the Air Safety Organization, of course.
- Persuasive and creative: You may be good at negotiations or benefits.
- Social and a good organizer: The Pilot-to-Pilot Committee or the Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee could use your skills.
- Helpful and a leader among leaders: You sound like an elected rep.
- A strong ALPA advocate: The Membership Committee can use your skills.