Secretary-Treasurers Celebrate the Past, Prepare for the Future

By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer
Forty elected officers—new and experienced—from 18 pilot groups and ALPA Canada attend the Secretary-Treasurers Conference at the Association’s McLean, Va., offices.

ALPA’s secretary-treasurers encounter a wide variety in terms of the work they do. Between their administrative and financial responsibilities, there aren’t many areas they don’t touch. From expenses to meetings and planning to budgeting, they’re responsible for utilizing ALPA’s resources to support their master executive council (MEC) or local executive council (LEC) and helping to keep ALPA on sound financial footing. For new volunteers it can seem a bit overwhelming, and even veterans in the position can use some guidance at times.

That’s why 40 pilot volunteers—new and experienced—from 18 pilot groups and ALPA Canada attended the Secretary-Treasurers Conference on May 10–11 at the Association’s McLean, Va., offices, learning their roles in ALPA’s finances and administration. Once again, elected officers at both the MEC and local council levels were invited to hone their skills and ensure that the next cadre of volunteers are ready to serve.

This year, the first fully in-person Secretary-Treasurers Conference since the onset of COVID-19 was both an educational activity and a celebration of the work done by those who held these positions during the pandemic and helped ALPA navigate very challenging times.

Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, stressed the importance of the position, noting, “The work that you do and the financial strength that you bring to our Association provide us the freedom we need to succeed.” He observed that their efforts and those of their colleagues helped ALPA make it through one of the most turbulent times the airline industry has faced. “The foundation provided by this group is what has allowed us to be more than ready for our current recovery,” he remarked.

Capt. Joseph Genovese, ALPA’s vice president/finance–treasurer, and Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president/administration–secretary, cohosted the conference and discussed the various duties of a secretary-treasurer and how to fulfill them. They were joined by staff subject-matter experts from the Finance, Legal, Membership, and Representation Departments who shared their specialized knowledge and encouraged attendees to get to know their colleagues.

“There’s no border in ALPA,” said Couette. “We all work on the same issues. Whatever you’re experiencing, chances are someone in the Association’s 91 years has run into it before. Network with each other.”

“We want you to leave here this week with the tools you need to succeed,” added Genovese. “Get to know the staff who can help you through it all.”

Topics covered over the two days included the importance of proper membership records and how to run reports, flight-pay loss, the budgeting process, purchasing policy, member insurance programs, running a meeting at both the MEC and LEC levels, and more.

“There’s no position quite so all-encompassing within ALPA as the secretary-treasurer,” said Genovese. He echoed DePete’s comments regarding the pandemic, stating, “We were able to not just keep things going, but keep things going in a positive direction even as the world was collapsing around us.”

At the same time, he cautioned that more work lies ahead and preached the same conservative financial approach to ensure that the Association’s financial position remains strong. Attendees learned about staying within spending policies, best practices for creating a budget, where members’ dues dollars go and their role in dues obligation and collection, approving—and sometimes rejecting—expense reimbursement requests, and more.

Couette and staff experts introduced the volunteers to Roberts Rules of Order and stressed the importance of keeping pilots’ membership status current. Genovese and Beth Robinson, director of ALPA’s Finance Department, emphasized how critical keeping the MEC manual up to date is, encouraging attendees to provide current versions to the Finance Department.

Couette and Marie Schwartz, director of ALPA’s Strategic Member Development & Resources Department, also provided an early look at the Board of Directors (BOD) meeting taking place in October. While MEC secretary-treasurers aren’t voting members of the BOD, they’re involved in the planning—and many MECs hold meetings on location prior to the event.

Perhaps most important, Couette and Schwartz outlined what ALPA pays for at the meeting and what the MEC must pay for. Couette’s advice? “Start now on your planning,” he said, especially on any purchasing decisions that need to be made, due to the ongoing supply-chain issues around the world.

Capt. Bernard Lewall (WestJet), the secretary-treasurer for his MEC since August 2021, who was attending his first conference, noted, “I was hoping to gain two things from this experience. First, I wanted to get some perspective on how different secretary-treasurers operate in general—but more specifically with respect to flight-play loss. And second, I was looking forward to networking with both my fellow secretary-treasurers as well as the staff.”

Lewall was impressed by what he learned at the conference. “I was able to get an idea of areas where we need to negotiate better conditions in our next contract that relate specifically to the secretary-treasurer role,” he explained, “but also, probably even more importantly, I have a better understanding of who I should contact with issues in the future, both at ALPA’s offices and among the other MECs.”

Genovese closed the event with a reminder that he was once in their shoes as a treasurer for the United MEC, and he knows what they go through. “Saying no can be tough, but that’s part of the job—and part of what makes it one of the toughest jobs in the Association,” he said. “I know how important it is and what it takes, so thank you.”

A Day in the Life

An enlightening session at ALPA’s Secretary-Treasurers Conference was “A Day in the Life of an ALPA Secretary-Treasurer.” This panel roundtable was hosted by Capt. Joseph Genovese, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, and included a cross section of pilot volunteers:

  •  F/O David Adler (Delta), Master Executive Council (MEC) Secretary,
  •  F/O Chris Young (Jazz Aviation), MEC Secretary-Treasurer,
  •  Capt. Lisa Peasley (United), Local Executive Council (LEC) Secretary-Treasurer, and
  •  Capt. Bernard Lewall (WestJet), MEC Secretary-Treasurer.

Throughout the free-flowing conversation, Genovese asked the panelists about various aspects of their duties and responsibilities, using their experiences to educate attendees.

One of the common duties of the position is approving—and sometimes not approving—requests for reimbursements from others in the MEC. Lewall said that he checks to make sure the expense is within MEC policy, work-related, and within expense limits. “There’s a constant need to keep pilots educated on finances so they know what they can and can’t purchase,” he said.

Genovese agreed, stating that sometimes committee chairs aren’t as conservative financially as the secretary-treasurers have been trained to be. “You need to keep the focus on ‘This is the pilots’ money’ and be proactive.”

The pilots also shared their experiences and best practices with the budgeting process. While everyone had to adapt during the pandemic, during a normal year the panelists said they typically start with the previous year’s budget, examine any upcoming events—e.g., if it’s a Board of Directors (BOD) year, if they’re entering negotiations, etc.—and adjust accordingly.

Young cautioned that budgeting isn’t just a one-time process. “Treat budgeting as a year-round exercise and not just once a year,” he said. “Things come up constantly and force you to adjust, and that’s fine. Just keep that adjustment in mind the next year as well.”

Peasley stated that she took on the position at her LEC just as COVID hit, but the previous position holder provided some valuable context. She also talked with her members to learn what they wanted prioritized, and from that made sure meetings were well funded, for example.

Other topics in the session included balancing the requirements of the position with flying, meeting planning, preparing for BOD meetings, keeping the policy manual updated, and flight-pay loss. The session ended with “unexpected issues” from the panel for others to keep an eye out for, including the reduction in flying, how difficult it can be to deny a pilot’s expense, and even the challenges of simply setting up meetings.

“Hopefully their experiences can help guide you,” concluded Genovese. “And remember, we all have experiences that can help others. Reach out to your colleagues when you need assistance.”

This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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