Restoring the Vision of a Single Pilots Union

Leaders of ALPA and the Independent Association of Continental Pilots have approved and endorsed an agreement that brings the two unions closer to a historic merger.

Air Line Pilot, January 2001, page 18
By Chris Dodd, Staff Writer

When the pilots of Continental and Continental Express took the motto Strength through Unity to brand their new union, the Independent Association of Continental Pilots (IACP), in 1993, they did it as an acknowledgement of how far they had progressed in the decade since ALPA had a presence on the property.

A little more than 7 years later, as the merger of that organization with ALPA got a major "thumbs up" from the leaders of both unions, history may rewrite that slogan and ALPA’s Strength from Within into a new motto: Combined Strength for the Success of All.

The odyssey to bring Continental’s approximately 5,400 mainline, 1,700 express pilots, and 200 flight instructors into ALPA to advance both groups’ mutual interests passed a pair of critical waypoints in December 2000.

On December 12, the 20-member IACP Board of Directors, meeting in special session in its Houston headquarters, overwhelmingly endorsed, by an 18–2 vote, a merger agreement that spells out the terms under which the IACP could become part of ALPA, subject to ratification by IACP members and by ALPA’s Executive Board.

Two days later, ALPA’s Executive Council convened in special session in Washington and unanimously passed a similar resolution by acclamation. The Executive Council’s resolution recommended that ALPA’s Executive Board, made up of the master executive council chairmen of all 49 ALPA carriers, vote to approve the merger agreement.

Both groups directed that a comprehensive communications program be continued to explain the merger agreement’s provisions to IACP and ALPA members and provide additional background as needed on ALPA resources.

The 13-page merger document, the product of several weeks of intense negotiation by representatives of both unions and a due diligence examination of both IACP’s and ALPA’s financial soundness (see "Highlights," page 20), sets forth processes to accomplish six objectives upon approval of the merger:

• transfer of bargaining rights for pilots and flight instructors for Continental and Continental Express from the IACP to ALPA;

• assurance that the collective bargaining agreements already in effect for the mainline and express pilots will continue without interruption;

• provision of ALPA membership for all members of the IACP;

• provision for full representation of the Continental and Continental Express pilots and flight instructors on all ALPA governing bodies;

• establishment of a governing structure for the Continental and Continental Express pilots and flight instructors with in ALPA’s current structures; and

• provision for the transfer of assets, and for the new pilot group to have full access to all of ALPA’s resources in carrying out collective bargaining representation (both mainline and express pilots’ contracts become amendable in 2002, but management has agreed to open negotiations with the mainline pilots by Oct. 1, 2001).

The votes by the two unions’ governing bodies follow on the heels of ALPA’s pilot unity resolution passed at the Board of Directors meeting in October 2000. At that meeting, ALPA’s BOD delegates pledged to unite all U.S. and Canadian pilots under the ALPA roof for the advancement of the profession.

Speaking before the IACP Board of Directors vote, ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, praised the IACP Board’s "momentous" decision to help "restore the vision" of a single union working for airline pilots’ interests.

Following the vote, he thanked the IACP representatives for their efforts in working through details of the merger agreement and said, "I look forward to working with you to create the most powerful, effective trade union for pilots the world has ever seen."

The IACP’s president, Capt. Patrick Burke, following that Board’s meeting, cited Capt. Woerth’s own vision in recognizing the changes in the industry that made pilot unity an absolute necessity.

Capt. Burke observed that Continental historically had played "a very big part" in ALPA since Bob Six, the airline’s founder, voluntarily recognized the union. Continental pilots signed their first ALPA contract on Sept. 1, 1940. Six, in 1961, was only the second airline president ever invited to speak to the ALPA BOD. He received a standing ovation.

Frank Lorenzo, however, "withdrew" recognition of ALPA as the Continental pilots’ collective bargaining representative on Aug. 26, 1985.

Whether to remain independent or stand with ALPA "has been a debate that’s been going on on the Continental property since [that time] that’s never been addressed appropriately," Capt. Burke said.

Since 1983, "the complexion of Continental Airlines has changed," he added. "A lot of new pilots are on board, and they’ve never had the opportunity to make this decision."

Perhaps just as important for many of the veteran pilots who lived through the "dark days of Lorenzo," Capt. Burke noted, the move toward bringing the Continental pilots back into the Association "brings the Continental pilots full circle and closes that chapter of our history. It’s a new day," he said, referring to his organization and to the airline industry. "We’ve had an independent association that has served our pilot group well for seven years, but now I think it’s time to join with a national organization again."

IACP members must now approve the agreement by a majority vote.

ALPA has already begun an outreach and education effort among the Continental and Continental Express pilots, visiting crew rooms and setting up pilot-to-pilot venues at crew bases in Houston, Newark, and Cleveland.

Ballots will most likely be mailed to IACP members by mid-March, Capt. Burke said, and must be returned and tabulated 30 days thereafter.

If the vote is successful, under ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws, ALPA’s Executive Board will review the document at its next regular meeting, scheduled for May 22–25. Following Executive Board ratification of the document, the merger could take effect as early as June 1.

Highlights of the Merger Agreement

Following are some of the major provisions of the proposed merger agreement between ALPA and the IACP:

• Effective with the merger, ALPA would become the certified collective bargaining representative of the Continental and Continental Express pilots and flight instructors, undertaking all the rights and obligations of the current contracts. The ALPA dues rate, currently 1.95 percent, would replace the IACP rate, currently 1.5 percent.

• While ALPA pilot groups are organized into local executive councils (LECs), Continental’s and Continental Express’s are called domicile councils, their status reps making up each domicile executive council (DEC). Under terms of the merger, incumbent IACP DEC representatives will be offered the opportunity to continue in their positions by becoming LEC representatives. The current officers of the IACP Board of Directors would become the officers of the new Continental MEC (a single body encompassing both mainline and express pilots and flight instructors), with terms running until September.

• The IACP provides for a representative appointed by the IACP President to serve as a liaison between the Express pilot group and the mainline. The merger agreement provides for a similarly appointed position, just as the executive administrator position is provided at several larger ALPA MECs.

• The combined pilot group, with more than 4,000 active members in good standing, would be entitled to representation on ALPA’s Executive Council, with a new executive vice-president to be elected by the Continental MEC.

• IACP members who do not have outstanding financial obligations to the IACP or ALPA will become ALPA members automatically on the effective date of the merger agreement. (IACP members who have outstanding financial obligations to either union may enter into a repayment plan to become members of ALPA.) For 90 days after the merger’s effective date, non-members who have satisfied their financial obligations to both unions may apply for ALPA membership.

• All IACP funds on the effective date of the merger will be transferred to the accounts of the Continental MEC, as follows: $1,000,000 to the ALPA Continental Pilot Merger Fund, to be used in accordance with ALPA policy to pay professional expenses if the Continental or Continental Express pilots are involved in an airline merger. Thereafter, 60 percent of the remaining IACP funds would be transferred into the Continental MEC’s operating account and the remaining 40 percent into the Continental Special MEC Reserve Account (SMRA).

• After the effective date of the next negotiated collective bargaining agreements of the mainline and express pilots, the Continental MEC may, at its discretion, contribute an amount, to be determined by the MEC, to ALPA’s Major Contingency Fund from the MEC operating account and/or SMRA.

• Any liabilities arising from IACP affairs, including costs of litigation and judgments, and becoming payable after the merger will be borne by the Continental MEC, except for the cost of litigation arising from negotiation and approval of and compliance with the merger agreement.

• ALPA would assume the lease on the Houston Office, which would become the new office of the Continental MEC. All IACP staff employees would be offered comparable employment positions in the Houston Office on the effective date of the merger.