ALPA Gives Officers a Leading Edge

Newly elected ALPA officials receive specialized training to help them better represent their members.

By Barbara Gottshalk, ALPA Communications Specialist, and Gary DiNunno, Air Line Pilot Editor-in-Chief
Air Line Pilot, April 2003, p. 12

The department presentations at the conference were given by Engineering & Air Safety, Government Affairs, Representation, Legal, Economic & Financial Analysis, Communications, and Finance.

ALPA is the ultimate team sport. Everybody wins, or everybody loses," said ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, in his Monday morning opening remarks to more than 110 attendees at ALPA’s 2003 Leadership Conference, February 10-13. ALPA’s Leadership Conference Committee conducts the annual forum for newly elected LEC and MEC representatives to receive comprehensive, interactive training in their roles and responsibilities as union leaders. The Committee members include Capt. Dan Waldmann (United), chairman, and Capts. Frank Mayne (Delta), Bob Gaudioso (US Airways), and David Farmer (Northwest).

Capt. Woerth commended attendees for their leadership at a time when ALPA members face unparalleled challenges in the airline industry and the piloting profession. Those challenges are best met, he said, when pilots let go of their airline competitive mentality and learn to count on other pilots as their colleagues. "All power is collaborative. So, we must consolidate our power and use it to our advantage," he urged.

That advantage will be necessary as ALPA members confront two issues brewing in Congress that could have a major effect on collective bargaining and pilots’ livelihoods. "First," Capt. Woerth said, "anti-labor sentiment on Capitol Hill is growing, and that, combined with an ongoing, public attack on the Railway Labor Act, could result in the reintroduction of legislation that would dismantle the collective bargaining process." Pension reform is another key issue "as failing airlines, who deferred funding pension plans in the boom years, are now seeking reductions in pilot pensions in their concessionary package proposals," he told the Conference participants.

Capt. Woerth underscored the importance of pilot contributions to ALPA-PAC as imperative for their union to present a strong, unified voice to the decision-makers in Congress who will be debating and deciding these issues in the coming year. Capt. Woerth concluded his remarks by stating, "Never before have we experienced this level of threat. In taking a leadership role and dealing with these threats, you are shaping your future and the future of your union. Flying the Line III will be written on the backs of current ALPA pilots and leaders."

Challenging attendees to "think globally," ALPA’s first vice-president, Capt. Dennis Dolan, gave an overview of ALPA’s efforts and activities on the international aviation front. Capt. Dolan explained that ALPA’s international influence is leveraged by the union’s active membership in the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA). He stressed the importance of U.S. ALPA’s membership in IFALPA because the Federation provides pilots observer status with the International Civil Aviation Organization.

ALPA’s global influence is also realized through the International Pilot Services Corporation (IPSC), a wholly owned ALPA subsidiary that provides economic and financial analysis services and representation training to foreign pilot groups. Through IPSC, ALPA has provided training, information, and analysis to a number of airline pilots associations, including those in Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, and South Africa, among others.

Finally, Capt. Dolan gave an update on cabotage and foreign ownership—two issues that affect the U.S. airline industry. These issues, a priority of the Association of European Airlines, were to be the main topics of discussion at the ICAO World Air Transport Conference in March.

Capt. Dolan, in his role as chairman of the ALPA Security Task Force, reported on the status of several major aviation security issues and ALPA’s activities to advance the union’s positions related to these issues:

• transport worker identification card (TWIC),

• Federal Flight Deck Officer Program (i.e., arming pilots),

• luggage screening/passenger bag match,

• reciprocal jumpseat access,

• cockpit doors, and

• security disqualification—FAR 61.18.

ALPA joined with several other organizations in petitioning the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to establish an industry workgroup to address the TWIC issue. Progress has been slow, but program development will continue in 2003, Capt. Dolan reported. ALPA has provided substantial input into the development of the FFDO program, and he stated that the initial pilot training program is on track for implementation.

To end the annual Leadership Conference, the new ALPA leaders joined the union's international officers for a "no holds barred" question-and-answer session.

Regarding obtaining reciprocal access to jumpseats, ALPA is working with the Air Transport Association (ATA) as part of a group that developed and demonstrated for the TSA in December 2002 a proposal for verifying pilot identification. Capt. Dolan said that ALPA expects the TSA to approve the system.

The FAA’s ruling on revoking airman certificates is of major concern to ALPA because no due process procedure exists for pilots whom the TSA has deemed to "pose a security threat." ALPA plans to file comments on the ruling.

ALPA’s vice-president-administration/secretary, Capt. Paul Rice, gave an overview of ALPA’s organizational structure, the composition and responsibilities of each governing body (i.e., LEC, MEC, Executive Council, Executive Board, and Board of Directors), and how they all work together. He also reviewed the ALPA services that are available to members and leaders, stressing the support from ALPA at every level. Capt. Rice updated attendees on current membership statistics, noting that the number of members on furlough is the highest since 1993—a consequence of the faltering airline industry.

ALPA’s vice-president-finance/treasurer, Capt. Chris Beebe, outlined the allocation of member dues and how the MECs use those funds. "Dues come back to pilots in a variety of ways," he told the new ALPA leaders, giving examples of MEC budgets and detailing the availability of ALPA’s Special MEC Reserve Account (SMRA) and the Operating Contingency Fund, and funding for services and administrative support.

ALPA General Manager Jalmer Johnson reminded Conference participants that ALPA members have multiple responsibilities—at the LEC level, at the MEC level, and at the international level. To help members carry out these responsibilities, ALPA’s priority is to provide appropriate resources to ensure the defense of the profession, he said.

Department presentations

Reviewing for the new officers the activities of the Engineering & Air Safety Department, Capt. John Cox (US Airways), Executive Air Safety Chairman, said the Department’s main challenge is to sell safety. He explained that the organization of ALPA’s safety structure integrates volunteer pilot safety representatives with professional staff. He described the various functions of the local and central safety chairmen and chief accident investigators, and outlined the resources and support used to carry out their work.

Capt. Cox then detailed the actions taken when an accident or incident occurs, as well as the training for investigators who are involved.

Director of Government Affairs Paul Hallisay outlined legislative issues that will be considered during the 108th Congress, but he focused on one important topic—the attack on the Railway Labor Act. This attack, "combined with the Bush Administration’s position of changing the way labor does business," is a critical issue for the entire labor movement, he said. He encouraged ALPA members to apply pressure on their airline CEOs to disclaim support for CESTA—the Committee for Economic Strength Through Aviation, the airline-sponsored lobbying group pushing this legislation.

Hallisay mentioned the Age 60 legislation as an ongoing issue of priority for the Association. He stressed that these new ALPA leaders, as they interact with their members, should be wary of changing the Age 60 rule. If the rule is changed and the mandatory retirement age is raised, he warned, "Congress may end up imposing more frequent and invasive physical examinations on pilots of all ages, and pension provisions in the U.S. tax code that pilots now enjoy may go by the wayside."

He also listed the ATSB loan guarantees as another area of ALPA concern.

The Association’s Director of Representation Seth Rosen reviewed the Department’s various functions—helping with negotiations, defending ALPA members against enforcement of FAA and TSA rulings, enforcing contracts, and counseling and supporting MECs during their meetings. Rosen outlined the four phases in the negotiation process and described the role of the MEC and pilot members as being critical in this process.

In addition, Rosen, too, spoke of ALPA’s efforts to counter the proposal for binding arbitration legislation, which he explained would effectively eliminate members’ ratification of a contract proposal as well as take away the right to strike. On the international front, a primary issue for ALPA will be cabotage—an issue that the European Union is trying to turn into something like the maritime industry in which most workers have little to no labor representation.

Ana McAhron-Schulz, director of ALPA’s Economic & Financial Analysis Department, explained her Department’s role in the contract negotiation process. Its financial analysis taps into ALPA’s extensive library of airline industry information, contracts database and on-line research center, and uses data from the Department of Transportation and the Official Airline Guide.

She also gave an overview of the state of the airline industry today. Noting such factors as the economic shocks, the decline in revenue, the burden of taxes and security costs, the forecast for 2003 is continued challenges for the industry and for pilot groups in their negotiations.

Dave Vance, director of ALPA’s Retirement and Insurance Department, said his staff work to design and negotiate into the final contract the most effective and complete employee benefit plan possible for each ALPA bargaining unit. During the life of the contract, the Department provides guidance to ensure compliance with ERISA rules, adequate funding, and the best possible investment performance.

Vance described some airline pilots’ defined benefit pension plans as being in "the perfect storm." The confluence of a double-dipping economic recession with the destruction of consumer confidence has left many airlines reeling after having "sailed through smooth waters" for 4 years. Airlines that had delayed fully funding their employee pension obligations, a legal and all-too-common cash-flow game, found themselves unable to cover unfunded liabilities when stocks lost value and revenues disappeared. Vance noted that ALPA may need to seek changes in retirement laws to allow companies the ability to amortize liabilities over a longer period of time.

Training sessions

The next 2½ days of the Leadership Conference included a combination of hands-on training and in-depth presentations covering a wide range of ALPA topics.

Communications Department Director Don Skiados opened Tuesday with a call to the new leaders to "develop a new way of doing business" in response to the attacks by airline managements. He underscored the importance of strategic planning as the ALPA leaders deal with the overwhelming challenges facing the piloting profession and the union.

Phil Comstock, president of the Wilson Center for Public Research, a firm that ALPA commissions to conduct polls, summarized recent survey results about the concerns, attitudes, and important issues among 16 pilot groups—both ALPA-represented units and other pilot groups—that were preparing for or in Section 6 negotiations throughout the past year.

According to the polls, Comstock said, the events of 9/11 had very little effect on the militancy and aspirations of the pilots as 2002 began. Overall, in the beginning of 2002, pilots had a positive outlook on their future: they were expecting a 15–20 percent increase in pay and gains in benefits. The underlying mentality was: "We’ve already earned our increases," and 85 percent of the pilots indicated they would strike if necessary.

Comstock then gave specifics of pilot attitudes within the various industry segments (i.e., cargo carriers, low-fare carriers, small jet, and large network carriers). During the second and third quarters of 2002, the pollsters began to see divergence among the industry segments. The pilots’ attitudes could be divided into two groups: those who supported strikes with the mentality, "They can keep me out on the street for as long as it takes," and those who questioned, "Once the strike is over, will the company still be there?"

During this time, pilots of small jets shifted their bargaining priorities to job security and broader scope language. Pilots of air cargo and low-fare carriers began to pull back somewhat from their feeling of being invulnerable. Large-carrier pilots moderated their expectations, agreeing to interim agreements.

Comstock described pilots’ views in terms of a "lag effect," i.e., their views lagged behind the economic realities. He noted that pilots now were expressing a very positive feeling toward their union. Currently, 85 percent approve of their MEC, and 80 percent say they believe that their ALPA dues are being put to good use. Specifically, Comstock noted, ALPA was the only airline industry union that had such positive feedback, with pilots citing increased communications as a main factor in the approval ratings. He also noted seeing cross-property solidarity for the first time in 2002.

Comstock concluded by characterizing ALPA leaders as "heroes" for doing union work under such extreme circumstances as those pilots are facing today.

Leadership Conference participants received a full picture of today’s airline pilot: first with Wilson Center poll results on current attitudes, and then with an aeromedical update by Dr. Donald Hudson, ALPA’s Aeromedical Advisor. He described his office’s services as twofold: consultative and clinical. Clinical services make up 85 percent of the office’s day-to-day activities and include

• confidential advice,

• FAR Part 67 interpretations,

• case presentation, and

• FAA reporting.

The office uses a searchable database with 22 disease and administrative categories and 32,000-plus cases on file.

Dr. Hudson reviewed the occupational risks to pilots, noting cataracts, kidney stones, malignant melanoma, and motor neuron diseases as being more prevalent among pilots than among the general population. Psychiatric problems are fast overtaking cardiovascular (which includes diabetes) ailments as the No. 1 health problems among pilots. Dr. Hudson described the options for dealing with clinical depression and cautioned attendees to contact his office first before making any decisions. He wrapped up his presentation with a review of health incidents post-9/11.

Following an overview of Robert’s Rules of Order that Capt. Mayne provided and a description from Capt. Gaudioso of formats for practice LEC and MEC meetings and resolutions, Conference participants divided into four subgroups to conduct mock meetings and debate hypothetical issues. The subgroups then heard representation scenarios and case studies that Representation Department staff offered as examples of situations and problems the new leaders may face.

On Wednesday morning, attendees rotated through three communications breakout sessions, which covered "overall effective communications." In one session, each of the three subgroups acted as a focus group to respond to possible ALPA strategy for defending the Railway Labor Act and a possible campaign for enhancing pilot image in the news media and among the general public. Communications Department staff will use this feedback to develop a proposed action plan to address these two issues.

Jalmer Johnson and Finance Department Director Kevin Barnhurst gave the Conference participants an overview of the union’s financial condition. They noted that refinements in ALPA’s finance structure, growth in membership, vigilance over spending, and accurate predictions of revenue in recent years have helped prepare the union to weather the financial storm surging through the airline industry. They urged the new LEC and MEC leaders to diligently monitor their ALPA finances and to work to keep within prescribed spending limits.

The Conference participants then broke into four subgroups to attend finance workshops that included guidance on new expense-form reporting procedures; on how to access, understand, and use their financial and accounting reports; on the importance of timely LM-2 reporting to the Labor Department; and on other fiscal policy matters.

Leadership Conference Committee members then led the group in discussions about techniques and tools that can help leaders set priorities and manage the large number of tasks that their new offices will require. To end the day, senior attorney Betty Ginsburg discussed with the new ALPA leaders their role and responsibilities to recognize, react to, and, if necessary, resolve sexual harassment situations and complaints.

On Thursday morning, ALPA’s Legal Department Director Jonathan Cohen, along with attorneys Jim Johnson and Marcus Migliore, discussed a number of legal issues that ALPA faces, including duty of fair representation and status quo under the Railway Labor Act.

Johnson reminded the new leaders that the FAA, in November 1999, interpreted the flight-time/duty-time rule to limit airline pilot duty to 16 actual hours a day. The Air Transport Association filed suit to block the FAA interpretation, but a court rejected the suit in May 2002. The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a new NPRM that the FAA has drafted. ALPA does not expect a new rule in the near future.

The Association attorneys discussed the legal aspects of various security issues, including the following:

• conflicts between pilots and screeners,

• disposition of charges both civil and criminal as a result of screening events,

• screener retaliation against pilots,

• alcohol detection,

• pilots’ unfamiliarity with their rights and responsibilities in the screening process,

• conflicts between Federal Air Marshals and pilots,

• criminal history background checks,

• the TSA’s new assertion that it can determine a pilot is a threat to security based on some undefined criteria that will be difficult to defend and then have that determination submitted to the FAA for action, and

• guns in the cockpit.

The ALPA attorneys discussed laws that protect employees who report or are called to active military duty. The laws provide job security and protect seniority, longevity and pension calculations, and 401(k) contributions. The new ALPA leaders learned about whistleblower protection laws that can apply to Association members who report FAR violations or illegal actions of carrier management.

Jim Barnett, director of ALPA’s Information Systems and Services Department, and a panel of support staff, outlined the union’s extensive computer hardware and software capabilities, the services available to LECs and MECs through the Printing and Mailing and Council Services divisions, and procedures and forms that the ALPA purchasing offices require pilots to use.

To end the annual Leadership Conference, the new ALPA leaders joined the union’s international officers for a "no holds barred" question-and-answer session.