ALPA Survival Strategy
‘Preserve, Protect, and Defend’

The Association’s Executive Board accepts challenge to "reengineer" ALPA.

By Rob Wiley, Staff Writer
Air Line Pilot, June/July 2003, p.24

Capt. Woerth, during his address, explained to the Executive Board that the Association must make some tough choices to survive the most dramatic reversal of fortune to ever befall an industry.

ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, wasted few words at the Association’s May Executive Board Meeting in describing his vision of economic recovery for the airline industry and its employees. Politics, he said, will make or break any potential recovery.

"Without a change in U.S. political leadership and philosophy, especially in the White House, most of what ails us is going to be with us for the future and threaten our long-term viability," he said in opening remarks to the 91st regular Executive Board meeting, held May 20 and 21, in Washington, D.C. "With the 2004 elections only 18 months away, it is not too early to begin educating our members on what political alternatives we have and how we may most effectively influence events to produce a more secure and promising future for our members and their families."

Capt. Woerth began that educational process by inviting Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt to speak to the Board and, through modern technology, to ALPA members nationwide. Gephardt’s presentation was videotaped and streamed through the Members Only section of ALPA’s website. The speech drew considerable support from the Executive Board members.

Gephardt’s appearance highlighted a quick and efficient meeting during which the Board approved two amendments to ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws, recommended 8 amendments to ALPA’s Administrative Manual, approved 12 other resolutions, and agreed to take no action on 2 agenda items.

Meanwhile, Capt. Woerth told the union leaders, the Association must make some tough choices to survive the most dramatic reversal of fortune to ever befall an industry.

"Our union is still financially strong, vibrant, and resilient," he said. "This is true because we not only planned for success, but we also responsibly managed the success we achieved in recent years. We saved for that rainy day."

Still, with the Association buffeted by deep and long-term concessionary contract revisions forced on pilots throughout the ALPA family, Capt. Woerth said that the union’s projected future revenue stream cannot support the status quo. The Association must make significant, substantial, and in many cases, painful decisions to reengineer itself into a more streamlined and cost-efficient organization.

"The 2004 balanced budget that the Executive Council must approve in September will involve serious cost-cutting to match our reduced revenue stream," he said. "We will be making numerous hard choices that will allow this union to plan for dramatic and remarkable success in the future."

Capt. Woerth listed three reasons for the airline industry’s sudden plunge into a financial quagmire:

While not downplaying the effects of the extraordinary market meltdown or the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, Capt. Woerth put most of the responsibility at the feet of airline industry management and the U.S. government.

Managements’ poor pricing and marketing strategies allowed low-cost carriers to achieve critical mass, while a union-bashing U.S. Administration took advantage of the extraordinary events of 9/11 to practice "simple labor extortion," ALPA’s President told the Executive Board.

That same federal government holds the most important cards in the economic game, he said.

"The only effective long-term keys to airline industry stabilization and recovery are frankly still in the hands of government," Capt. Woerth said. "We need to ask some hard political questions:

"Until all of these questions can be answered with a resounding YES, the U.S. airline industry may stabilize, but at some uncomfortably lower equilibrium," he said. "However, the industry is unlikely to enter into a period of sustained recovery, growth, and prosperity unless we make changes."

Capt. Woerth noted the strength of ALPA’s Government Affairs team, which produced some recent political victories—cargo aircraft security, due process for pilots, and defeat of a proposal to permit cargo cabotage. But, he said, U.S. ALPA members need to get involved at the grassroots level—in home congressional districts—to reinforce the work done in Washington, D.C.

"Individual airline pilots are either politically agnostic, or they are voting for the very people who are opposing them," he said. "The only way we can connect the dots is to have our pilots let the politicians at home know where the votes are and that we are paying attention to what happens in Washington, D.C. We can do that."

National security

ALPA’s first vice-president, Capt. Dennis Dolan, noted some political successes and some frustration in promoting national security issues. He placed the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program firmly in the success column.

Promoted heavily by ALPA in the aftermath of 9/11, the FFDO program graduated its first class in April. Reviews from the 44 pilots who graduated from the program were positive, said Capt. Dolan, particularly about the instructors and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center facilities in Glynco, Ga. (see "A Deterrent to Terror," page 12).

"We got this program through political lobbying, talking to the press, and talking to the general public," Capt. Dolan said. "We convinced people that it was the right thing to do."

Airline security won another victory recently when the U.S. Senate approved the Air Cargo Security Act, which rectified the exclusion of all-cargo pilots from the original legislation in the Homeland Security Act. The legislation would require that cargo facilities be inspected and that the federal government work with other countries to conduct regular checks at facilities overseas where cargo bound for the United States is handled. It would also call for cargo-only airlines to develop a security plan for their facilities, operations, and employees that includes background checks and tamper-proof employee identification cards.

Earlier in May, the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee added to the Aviation Security Technical Corrections and Improvement Act a "technical correction" that allows all-cargo airline pilots to fully participate in the FFDO program. Cargo pilots were previously excluded from the program.

Capt. Dolan noted a couple of other victories for pilots in the House Aviation Security Technical Corrections and Improvement Act: one clause gives U.S. pilots the right to appeal the revocation of their airman certificate for security reasons, and another includes a procedure for employees to appeal their dismissal for crimes that are revealed by their background check.

The TSA had issued an NPRM—without soliciting comments—that allowed the agency and the FAA to revoke the airman certificate of any individual deemed a security risk. The new rule did not provide the affected employees any real means of recourse and denied them access to the information that led to their dismissal.

"All Americans are entitled to due process, and none was originally built into either of these regulations," Capt. Dolan said. "Pilots now will have their say; they can give their side of the story. This bill will do that for us."

Capt. Dolan asked the Executive Board to approve a resolution calling for reorganization of ALPA’s National Security Committee. He noted that the NSC was never designed to deal with an issue on the magnitude of the
9/11 terrorist attacks and that the proposed reorganization would keep pilots as major players in the modern security environment created on 9/11.

He told the Board that the reorganized committee would be based on a project-oriented tasking system, similar to that of ALPA’s Air Safety Structure. The Board later adopted the necessary amendment to ALPA’s Administrative Manual approving the new structure that will "greatly enhance the Association’s ability to address the serious security challenges that lie ahead."

Capt. Dolan noted that the NSC had already put together an independent aviation security advisory board composed of academic and industry representatives with expertise in security.

"ALPA formed this group as a think tank for issues of airline security," Capt. Dolan said. "It will focus primarily on how to gather and distribute security information in a meaningful way. We can gather all the information in the world, but if we can’t disseminate it effectively to the people who really need it—i.e., airline pilots—what good is it?"

Constitutional changes

The Executive Board recommended two amendments to ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws, one paring the number of member classifications from eight to seven and the other clarifying a widespread exemption from dues.

The first amendment drops the Active Member (Sick) member classification. The seven official member classifications now include Active, Apprentice, Executive, Inactive, Retired, Honorary, and Reactivated Member.

This change seeks to prevent erroneous member interpretations, especially since collectively bargained sick leave and medical provisions vary widely among pilot groups. This causes options for similarly diagnosed medical conditions to vary significantly from one member to the next.

The Executive Board delegate committee noted that members under this classification could theoretically remain Active as long as they wished without paying dues. A more consistent approach would be fairer for the overall membership.

If the Board of Directors approves this amendment, it will become effective March 1, 2004.

The other change to ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws involves the prevailing practice of treating company-paid insurance premiums and travel benefits, which are included in the member’s W-2 or T-4 form, as exempt from dues. Such payments are usually made for nondependent-partner insurance or companion passes.

While the exemption is widespread, the language in ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws covering dues-exempt categories did not clearly state that these payments were exempt from dues. The committee recommended that the practice be specified in the appropriate section to ensure that all members are treated equally.

The item received the required two-thirds majority vote of the Executive Board and is subject to the same two-thirds majority vote on a roll-call basis of valid ballots returned by the Board of Directors.

Electronic ballots

The Executive Board continued to refine its electronic balloting procedures (see "We Are Not Competitors," November/December 2002). Noting that participation decreased dramatically after electronic balloting was instituted in ALPA’s election process, the September 2002 Executive Board took several measures to improve the process.

One of those changes directed ALPA’s Vice-President–Administration/Secretary to review ALPA’s Administrative Manual to develop appropriate changes to policy language to conform with amendments that Board meeting adopted. The May 2003 Board discussed those policy language changes and adopted them, and directed the Vice-President–Administration/Secretary, in conjunction with ALPA’s Membership Services Department, to continue the administrative review and to present appropriate recommendations to the October 2003 Executive Board meeting.

The Board also approved several other amendments to the Administrative Manual, including the following:

In other action, the Executive Board

After reviewing the ALPA Administrative Manual, the Board determined that no current policies covering LEC election cycles and terms of office required change. It voted to take no action on that agenda item.

Also, after spirited debate in committee, the Executive Board voted with one abstention to take no action on a resolution to explore legal options to rescinding the FAA’s Age 60 retirement rule.