'We Are Not Competitors'
ALPA’s Executive Board hears appeal for unity to protect a profession under siege.
Air Line Pilot,
November/December 2002, page 12
By Chris Dodd, staff writer
Grim times, tough talk, and vital decisions were evident as ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, sounded a strong call for unity at the 90th regular Executive Board meeting, September 10 and 11.
The meeting of all of ALPA’s master executive council chairmen in Reston, Va., did important advance work on key initiatives that the full Board of Directors was to take up in October—among them, further work on resolving scope conflicts and on refining ALPA’s representational structure.
And bookending the 2 days of committee work and resolutions were pointed warnings to the leaders not to let airline managements exploit differences among pilot groups, with Capt. Woerth reminding the delegates: "We are not competitors."
His remarks foreshadowed a Board of Directors theme that would reemphasize the union’s mission—mobilizing pilots across all airlines to defend against practices and policies that divide the union and weaken contract standards.
Capt. Woerth urged the MEC leaders in attendance to launch a "counterattack on hostile managements and government" in a climate as bitter as the airline industry has experienced since the mid-80s. With collective bargaining threatened by proposed legislation and with numerous pilot groups under pressures for concessions, Capt. Woerth warned that the profession is "basically under siege."
State of the airline industry
Despite "pockets of relative prosperity," the airline industry continues to try to recover from the economic devastation of the last year and a half, Capt. Woerth told the representatives. High fuel prices and a faulty airline ticket pricing model that drove away high-end business customers when the "bubble economy" burst caught network carrier managers "flat-footed," he declared.
The economy’s boom times burst another bubble for many airline employees nearing retirement, Capt. Woerth pointed out. He noted that many airline managements, rather than putting cash into employee pension plans during the "boom years" between 1995 and 2000, bought back their company stock or shares from previous partners (e.g., US Airways and British Airways, Northwest and KLM, Continental and Northwest). The result: woefully underfunded pension plans and additional pressures on carriers that have to compete with "the rising tide of low-cost carriers."
Adding to these pressures on air carriers has been the "relentless increase in user fees and taxes on the airline industry," Capt. Woerth added.
"The news media report on the ‘war on terrorism’ every day. Yet to finance this war, the industry that was a victim of the crime is being asked to pay for the war in increased user fees and security costs that cannot be passed on to the consumer."
The Executive Board, during its deliberations, passed two resolutions directing ALPA’s President (1) to support the Air Transport Association’s efforts toward reducing the tax and fee burden, which now accounts for as much as 26 percent of the average airline ticket, and (2) to educate members, the general public, and elected officials "to end the inaccurate portrayal of labor as the cause of the current economic crisis in the airline industry."
A club for concessions
Capt. Woerth had harsh words for the Air Transportation Stabilization Board, which he said is being used as "a club to beat long-term concession deals out of airline unions—pilots especially. Two-thirds of the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act funds are being held back to extort long-term labor contract restructurings."
With much of the airline industry’s restructuring resulting in capacity reductions that move flying increasingly to smaller airplanes, Capt. Woerth urged the leaders of ALPA’s pilot groups to challenge the corporate "lie" that their groups must compete with one another and to continue working to develop "a joint, collective, coordinated job security strategy within code-sharing airline systems."
A central concept in that strategy is what he termed "next generation" scope language.
"We will never be able to stop the race to the bottom in every economic downturn or to stop competing for jobs within a code-share alliance if we don’t get some degree of control over what the terms and conditions are for qualifying for a code-share," Capt. Woerth told the MEC leaders.
"I firmly believe that if we coordinate our joint campaign for this next-generation scope, [which] involves more code-share governance [and] puts as much or more emphasis on the quality of the pilot contracts [involved] as in the quantity of aircraft types permitted, then the profession and every pilot in the code-share arrangement will be better served."
BSIC moves forward
At present, the work of examining scope relationships has fallen to ALPA’s Bilateral Scope Impact Committee. The Executive Board reviewed the Committee’s report to the Board of Directors and concurred with the BSIC’s recommendations, including the Association’s enhancing the role of its Joint Standing Committees—the groupings of "significant alliance and code-share partners," which have been meeting since this spring. The report recommends that the JSCs form subgroups to hone in on issues of special concern, particularly in collective bargaining, safety, and communications, and to enter into voluntary protocols on the conduct of their work and on substantive issues.
The BSIC report also recommends that the Association undertake an ALPA-wide membership communications program to educate members on the critical importance of scope protection for all pilot groups, including the concept of "system scope" and "brand" protection.
Those terms were introduced to MEC leaders at the express carrier collective bargaining forum in late July (see "ALPA Bargaining Conference Tracks Express Carrier Trends," September/October). The Conference pointed out that the most effective tactical response to current whipsawing would be a unified effort by pilots within airline systems to prevent erosion of pay rates and working conditions inside an airline "brand"—and, indeed, to work to lift the brand as a whole.
The Executive Board recommended that the Board of Directors continue the work of the BSIC as a "top priority of the Association" and continue to develop these concepts in conjunction with the Collective Bargaining Committee, along with proposed models for career protection and progression. The Executive Board approved adding a fourth member to the Collective Bargaining Committee, to include a representative from the Association’s express carriers.
The Executive Board also recommended that the Board of Directors support the creation and filling of a "resource coordinator" position within ALPA, to coordinate affairs of smaller-carrier MECs. The position would act as a liaison to the National Officers, help smaller-carrier MECs receive ALPA services, and also help them in the procedural and policy aspects of conducting business within the Association.
A position of Express Coordinator was incorporated into the 2003 ALPA budget approved by the Executive Council in August. ALPA’s President will appoint a person to fill this position, which will report to the President’s Department, and is expected to do so by the end of the year.
One of ALPA’s most powerful resources—the Major Contingency Fund—was tapped for allocations of $2 million each for strike preparations at Air Transat and Mesa.
In addition, the Executive Board passed a resolution opposing the formation of Freedom Air, the nonunion startup planned by Mesa Air Group.
The Special Representational Structure Review Committee, which has been examining ALPA’s representation mechanisms for the past 2 years, submitted its report, along with recommendations for revamping the current cycle for local council elections.
The SRSRC recommended that terms for local council representatives be changed to 3 years from the current 2-year terms, and that three local council election groups be established (in place of the current two) so that only one-third—rather than half—of the local executive council representatives and officers faces election in any given year.
The Board of Directors must approve the constitutional amendments to make such a change, and the Executive Board would have to approve the necessary policy changes at its meeting next May.
The Executive Board also recommended two other constitutional amendments, which must be voted on by the full BOD. One amendment recommended that all unpaid assessments, including MEC assessments, should be placed on a member’s ALPA account for collection. The second proposed that the Executive Council be permitted to submit agenda items at any time up to the beginning of the Executive Board meeting, rather than 55 days in advance.
Responding to reports that pilots were having difficulty accessing ALPA’s electronic balloting system, the Board directed that the information contained with the ballot notification be expanded to include full member number and password, and that the ballot notification also include a toll-free direct telephone number for Membership Services help in case a pilot still has trouble accessing the system.
The Board also approved several amendments to the Administrative Manual, including
• endorsing software modifications to enhanced ground proximity warning systems that would provide oral situational awareness updates to pilots in or near the airport; the improvement has "been demonstrated to be intuitive, nonintrusive, and lowers cockpit workload significantly while lowering the risk of runway incursions";
• adding a prohibition on the use of pirated computer software or unauthorized use of licensed software—persons knowingly violating the prohibition may be subject to disciplinary action and will be barred from further use of ALPA computers; and
• amended the current deductibles on the Association’s current risk-management program with Kitty Hawk Insurance Co., Ltd., subject to approval by Lloyds of London, the Association’s outside insurer.
The Executive Board also
• recommended that the Board of Directors reaffirm ALPA policy that the Association not negotiate a no-strike provision in any collective bargaining agreement;
• approved a $250,000 grant from the Operating Contingency Fund to the Eagle MEC for a communications program to help promote pilot unity;
• directed ALPA’s first vice-president and staff to continue monitoring international licensing harmonization efforts that could facilitate cabotage or erode ALPA pilot wages, benefits, or working conditions; ALPA’s First Vice-President Dennis Dolan reported that a Joint Aviation Authorities/FAA working group is studying the issue, but that no action on the matter is expected within the next year;
• went on record to "vigorously oppose" ALPA members’ signing of U.S. Department of Justice privacy waivers in conjunction with initial or recurrent training—Canadian members were particularly affected by the request for information from the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force;
• directed that ALPA’s Flight Time/Duty Time Committee be expanded to 10 members to facilitate its broad scope of work, including related cargo and international issues—the new members must be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Executive Council;
• recommended that the BOD extend the Captain’s Authority Committee as a presidential committee;
• asked the Vice President-Administration, Membership Committee, and staff to address the membership status of pilots on disability or long-term sick leave;
• took no action on a proposal to modify ALPA’s Constitution regarding the eligibility of National Officers to remain in office if they retire from line flying during their term, or on a proposal to permit furloughed pilots to remain in active-member status pending a pilot group grievance of the furloughs (e.g., United’s challenge of pilot furloughs imposed under "force majeure" provisions of the contract); and
• received reports from ALPA’s national committees, which will be forwarded to the full Board of Directors for review.