Reaching ALPA’s Resources

The Association’s new resource coordinator performs a flight check on his responsibilities.

By Chris Dodd, Staff Writer
Air Line Pilot,
February 2003, p. 20

Allegheny Capt. Matthew Kernan’s appointment to the new position of ALPA resource coordinator was announced in early December 2002. The post, which reports directly to ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, was designed to facilitate communication between ALPA’s smaller pilot groups and the Association’s officers, to help these groups gain better access to ALPA services, and in short, to give a greater voice to this growing constituency in Association matters.

Capt. Kernan has been involved in ALPA work since he was hired as an Allegheny Airlines pilot in 1990, including more than 9 years as that pilot group’s MEC chairman. He served 6 years on ALPA’s Executive Council, the governing body that oversees the Association’s finances and helps direct ALPA policy.

The son of long-time ALPA activist Capt. Joe Kernan (US Airways, Ret.), the younger Capt. Kernan is respected for his straight-shooting approach and interest in issues involving ALPA’s smaller carriers.

Air Line Pilot staff sat down with him in late December 2002 for a brief interview.

Why do you think you were chosen for this position?

As an MEC chairman and executive vice-president, I was asked to help out in a lot of areas of ALPA work—from participating in organizing drives to sitting in on negotiations to picking up the phone and answering questions, mostly in the smaller carrier arena.

I’ve served on Strike Oversight Boards and helped out in informational picketing. Sometimes my role was something as simple as being a news media spokesperson because of threats that at certain airlines (Midwest Express and Skyway are a couple of examples) an employee who gave an interview would be terminated.

What did you take away from those experiences?

ALPA is a large organization, and I got the sense that sometimes new MEC/LEC officers and committee people seemed not to know where to turn—or didn’t even know they could turn—to use the Association’s vast array of resources.

How do you see your new job?

My expectation is that, for the most part, I will be continuing what I have been doing, but on a full-time basis, with more focus.

Capt. Woerth’s initial description of this position really ran the gamut, and that’s also the way I saw it as the position was being developed. The responsibility could be something as simple as guiding a new MEC chairman or officer in the right direction to get help from the Communications or Membership or R&I Departments, or maybe to the right attorney for expertise on a specific issue, all the way to direct participation in negotiations when needed, or when requested.

So it’s an advisory role?

Yes, and that’s one concern I have. In a lot of cases, pilots often have a general perception that anybody coming in from the "national organization"—even if it’s only to offer guidance—is there to dictate a course of action: "ALPA National is here to tell us what to do."

If I have one goal in mind from the outset, I’d like to dispel that perception as soon as possible. I can’t and don’t tell anyone what to do. I have a lot of different experience at a lot of different levels in doing ALPA work. I want to offer that experience to anyone who may need it, but I’m not going to force it on anybody.

Can you talk about any of the recent contract negotiations with which you have been involved in terms of the current pressures in the airline industry?

Well, the CCAir/Mesa situation is the most recent and is a classic case of overt whipsawing. Mesa management has essentially destroyed CCAir in an effort to whipsaw Mesa pilots in their negotiations. And we’re seeing more and more of that on a lot of other properties.

That’s why we have to pull together on these issues. A free-for-all is not the solution. We would be trying to out- price each other.

What is your take on the scope issue?

The single biggest issue with scope is the perception that everybody wants everybody else’s job, when in reality it’s about protecting what you have. I’ve had 12 years of work within the Association, and I would say that scope is probably the biggest hot-button issue that is yet unresolved. The Association has always proven to have an uncanny capability of being able to resolve contentious issues, and I don’t believe this one is insurmountable.

People are wrong if they think that our pilots union is the only one that has ever had issues regarding who does what work. Every union has jurisdictional disputes. The difference is that we are far more democratic than a lot of those unions, so the members ultimately get to decide the direction of the solution.

How do you think the Association is dealing with it?

While the Bilateral Scope Impact Committee (BSIC) has not concluded its work, it’s done some very good things. MEC leaders need to capitalize on the Joint Standing Committees, for example; the MECs need to use the policies and procedures they’ve put into place.

ALPA has begun exploring a "brand management" approach to scope, which refers to all member carriers in an airline family working jointly to uphold contract standards for all the affiliated carriers within the group for their mutual protection.

If we’ve had a failure with regard to the scope issue, it’s perhaps that we didn’t capitalize on finding a potential solution when it didn’t matter as much—that is, when times were good and everybody was growing. People were trying to find solutions, but because things were good, it went to the back burner, and the focus that probably needed to be there wasn’t.

Do you have strong feelings on referring to members flying for smaller ALPA affiliates in any particular way?

Pilots from smaller carriers feel that they shouldn’t be called anything other than "pilot," even though a certain aircraft type was introduced that labeled some of them as "regional jet pilots." I’m not even sure that "smaller carrier pilot" works.

If the labels didn’t carry with them certain perceptions, most pilots probably wouldn’t care. But some of the labels convey a sense of separation or inferiority. The general view is that, because of the distinction, pilots from these carriers are perceived as lower caliber and can be treated as such, both within the airline industry and the Association. They don’t want there to be any distinction. They shouldn’t be perceived, or treated differently, from any other member of the profession.

You’ve always been outspoken, and you’ve sometimes disagreed publicly with the Association’s position on issues. Why do you continue to do ALPA work?

This is a large organization, with many issues facing us. If we had no disagreements, ALPA wouldn’t be what it is. While I’ve had disagreements with the Association, I’ve always chosen to work within it to try to fix the problems, rather than stand on the outside and criticize the institution that I believe is the best, and only, one that can represent pilots properly.

I believe overall that, if you had an opportunity to sit down with pilots from some of these carriers, even those who have strong complaints about what ALPA has done on a particular issue, they’ll agree that they’re better off with the Association than without it. ALPA still wields a very big stick—far bigger than any of us could ever wield on our own.