Representation Hits the Spot

ALPA’s Representation Department offers a wide spectrum of vital union services to member units, large and small.

Air Line Pilot, November/December 2003, p. 12
By Rob Wiley, Staff Writer

The organizational chart depicting ALPA’s Representation Department—the Association’s largest staff group—speaks volumes: it is full of experience, and its staff is located largely in front-line offices where airlines are headquartered, to work hand-in-hand with pilot volunteers.

The people at the top of the chart can measure their combined experience in centuries. You’ll find such long-time union stalwarts as Bruce York (25 years), Bill Roberts (27 years), Ken Cooper (31 years), Steve Crable (27 years), Jim Wilson (25 years), and Jeff MacDonald (29 years). Still consulting with ALPA on key negotiating and strategic initiatives is Seth Rosen (35 years), even after his new appointment as director of International Pilot Services Corporation.

But more than six times as many Representation Department staffers are in the field, providing daily service to ALPA’s more than 60,000 individual members and 42 master executive councils. These employees are a unique mix of labor lawyers, contract administrators, and labor relations professionals, all dedicated to serving MECs, large and small.

The Representation Department is charged with a variety of specific duties and responsibilities. Its primary function goes to the very core of a modern union: negotiating and enforcing ALPA’s collective bargaining agreements.

In addition, department staff assist in ALPA’s efforts to organize new pilot groups or merge with other pilot unions, represent pilots involved in Federal Aviation Administration medical and enforcement cases, help surviving crewmembers during National Transportation Safety Board accident investigation proceedings, and generally advise MECs on a daily basis as those member governing bodies work through diverse labor relations challenges.

From the Washington, D.C., office, the Department reviews completed collective bargaining agreements and recommends that ALPA’s President sign the agreement or not, is the primary Association interface with the National Mediation Board, advises ALPA’s national officers on contract and labor issues, and works with ALPA-wide committees on bargaining issues. The Representation Department works closely with ALPA’s other departments in each of these areas.

A full plate

That’s a full plate for any organization, let alone a single department within an organization. To handle those responsibilities, the Department has about 70 employees spread out in offices in Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Herndon, Va.; Houston; Los Angeles; Memphis; Minneapolis; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Seattle; St. Louis; Toronto; and Washington, D.C.

Director of Representation Bruce York, appointed in July to succeed long-time director Seth Rosen, says that “a couple of things distinguish our department.

“One,” he says, “is our experience level and expertise in negotiations and contract enforcement, which speak for themselves.

“The other is project management. Negotiations are big projects that go on for two or three years. Pulling together the various resources needed to complete the project successfully is a complex task. The work of the pilot negotiating committees, economic and financial analysis, communications, retirement and insurance, and ALPA’s general counsel—and interacting with the National Mediation Board—are  all essential, but they have to come together at the right time. Coordinating these resources during negotiations falls to our Department staff.”

Project management becomes even more crucial with the volume of negotiations. York says that with 42 airlines historically operating on a 3-year contract schedule, as many as 15 of them will be in negotiations at any one time.

And the current economic situation facing the airline industry is bringing mid-term requests from airline managements to renegotiate contracts. Add to that the hundreds of grievances, arbitrations, and appeals from FAA enforcement actions, and the scope of the Department’s responsibilities becomes even more evident. This is one busy group of people.

Fortunately, the Department can, and often does, draw from other ALPA departments, depending on the situation.

“Teamwork distinguishes us from most other labor unions,” York says. “In addition to the pilot-staff teams we put together for negotiations, if the FAA is taking action against a pilot, ALPA’s Engineering and Air Safety Department, Legal Department, or Aeromedical Office typically plays a huge role in our response. Organizing efforts are always a joint effort of the Representation and Communications Departments, with help from others.”

Midwest success story

The pilot leaders of the Midwest Airlines MEC and Negotiating Committee know firsthand about team efforts. Not surprisingly, the management of that airline began pressuring the MEC chairman, Capt. Jerome (Jay) Schnedorf, and the Negotiating Committee chairman, Capt. Scott Hegland, to open concessionary bargaining in October 2001.

Capt. Hegland had been a leader in the organizing drive at Midwest in the 1990s, finally succeeding in 1997, after three attempts. Working first with John Bradley in the Representation Department and later with Ken Cooper, Capt. Hegland grew to appreciate the complexities involved in organizing even a small property like Midwest, which now has between 275 and 285 active pilots.

“We finally organized our pilots in 1997,” Capt. Hegland says. “I learned a lot about the Railway Labor Act and about labor law in general.” He adds, “Our first contract administrator, John Schleder, along with Bradley and Cooper, always got us what we needed, regardless of the situation.”

The euphoria over union membership and a professionally negotiated contract didn’t last long, however. Capt. Hegland says that management kept resisting the new union, leading to many grievances and enforcement issues. Again, the Representation Department was there, side-by-side with the affected pilots to ensure that the contract was honored.

Then came the events of 9/11, coupled with tough economic times. Management wasted little time in asking for concessions from the Midwest pilots. Capt. Schnedorf says, “Nobody on our MEC or in our Negotiating Committee had experience with concessionary bargaining or with bargaining under the threat of bankruptcy. We were facing some formidable challenges.

“But with a top-notch Negotiating Committee, supported by the resources we had in ALPA’s departments and general counsel’s office,” he says, “we were able to get through the process and come out with a concessionary agreement that is far better than we would have had if we didn’t have those resources.” (See “ALPA Team at Midwest,” opposite.)

Ongoing contract talks

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilots are in the midst of regular Section 6 negotiations. According to the MEC chairman, Capt. Bob Arnold, negotiations on the pilots’ fourth contract have been constant since Sept. 17, 2002, and the progress has been slow, methodical, and professional.

Capt. Arnold became a local executive council secretary/treasurer in 1998, in the midst of the last contract negotiations, which were not going well. A long, 3-year negotiating process had produced an agreement that 94 percent of the Atlantic Southeast pilots rejected.

It was, Capt. Arnold says, “kind of a mess.” A less sympathetic union might have walked away from the situation, but not ALPA. “ALPA did not turn its back on us,” Capt. Arnold says. “ALPA gave us the money and the support we needed to take the resolve of our pilots and return to the negotiating table and work out a solution. ALPA is a grabbag of resources, but you need to learn how to navigate your way around. You can have anything—within reason—if you ask for it. It’s there; you just have to know how to get it,” he says.

The current negotiations came at a good time for Atlantic Southeast pilots. One of the senior contract administrators in the Representation Department’s Atlanta office, Terry Saturday, had just finished negotiating an agreement between Comair and ALPA. Both Comair and Atlantic Southeast are wholly owned subsidiaries of Delta Air Lines.

Based on Saturday’s experience with another Delta Connection carrier and his availability, Capt. Arnold and the Negotiating Committee chairman, Capt. John Rice, felt that Saturday could easily transition to this crucial round of upcoming contract talks.

At the same time, the Atlantic Southeast pilots already had an excellent contract administrator in Andrew Brenner, who they wanted to continue with contract enforcement during the negotiation.

“We flew to ALPA’s Herndon, Va., office and met with Steve Crable and Bill Roberts,” Capt. Arnold says. “We conveyed our feelings that the effectiveness of our next contract would be tied to the vigorous defense of our current contract and that our MEC had a total commitment to that agenda.

“We asked for a second attorney to handle negotiations only to make our top priority of contract compliance possible. After we explained what we wanted and why, ALPA accommodated our request to use Saturday in the negotiations and Brenner for contract enforcement.

“We are truly fortunate,” Capt. Arnold says, “to have two top-notch attorneys working for the Atlantic Southeast pilots.”

“Capt. Rice and I speak every night during negotiating weeks,” Capt. Arnold says. “He will tell me what, if anything, he needs from me or from ALPA to make things better and easier for his team, and I’ll get it. Because of the confidence that I have in the whole ALPA team, I can afford not to be directly involved in the negotiations.”

Pilots for pilots

Assistant Director of Representation Ken Cooper has been organizing pilots for the last 15 of his 31 years with ALPA. He thinks that the first thing to look for in organizing a pilot group is the level of the pilots’ desire for representation and their willingness to work on their own behalf on an organizing committee. “When you see both of these,” he says, “you know that the group will fit well in the ALPA structure, which is based, more than anything else, on pilot involvement and decision-making.

“The two basic kinds of organizing are internal and external,” Cooper says. “External is ALPA—or some other union—trying to encourage pilots to organize. We’ve found over the years that this process doesn’t work by itself.

“The key to successful organizing is having people inside who want to make a change. That core group of dedicated pilots makes all the difference.” The pilot organizing committee, or core group, works to stimulate interest among fellow pilots and collects authorization cards.

“Once we’re certified, we appoint a temporary MEC to begin a membership drive,” Cooper says. “That’s necessary, because to participate in any ALPA process, including running for office, you must be an ALPA member. The membership drive usually runs for 60 to 90 days, then we hold the initial elections and begin working with the MEC to set up the workings of ALPA among that pilot group.”

Another type of organizing focuses on pilot groups that already have pilot union representation. Cooper says that ALPA is not inclined toward hostile takeover attempts of pilot groups that other unions represent, but the Association is always willing to talk with independent unions that are seriously considering moving in another direction.

The Association’s most recent big additions were mergers: the pilots from Continental Airlines (Independent Association of Continental Pilots) and Federal Express (FedEx Pilots Association). Both had been ALPA members before, and each had come to ALPA requesting discussions on a merger.

ALPA had earlier merged with the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association, becoming a true international union.

A team effort to win

“In these efforts, as with many others, the Representation Department worked with ALPA’s Communications and Legal Departments,” Cooper says. “We couldn’t do what we do without the help of these Departments. It really is a team effort and combined function.”

“More often than not, when ALPA’s Representation Department tackles a problem with an MEC or with an individual ALPA member, the Association and the airline piloting profession win,” York concludes.

Winning Notes

Here are some recent examples of ALPA Representation Department successes:

Mesaba Aviation

On August 27, Arbitrator Dennis Nolan ruled that Mesaba Aviation management violated its collective bargaining agreement with ALPA by denying first officers the right to bump their juniors during the 2002 reduction-in-force, by posting several training classes with common dates and by offering a training class without posting it for bid.

The arbitrator, in reaching his decision, applied the basic canons of interpretation, including reading the amendments in light of their origins, viewing each provision in its context, trying to give effect to all provisions in an agreement, and narrowly reading exceptions to broad general rights.

ALPA attorney Betty Ginsberg helped Representation Department staff with this case.

Ryan International Airlines

Ryan International Airlines performs seasonal contract flying for other airlines, supplying flightcrew members to operate contracting companies’ airplanes. Before Ryan’s first collective bargaining agreement with ALPA, Ryan had with JMC, a British airline, an arrangement through which JMC provided Ryan with airplanes and some pilots during Europe’s off-season. In return, JMC provided jobs for Ryan crewmembers in the summer season. Ryan planned to continue this arrangement and extend it to Aer Lingus and perhaps other airlines, and ALPA agreed, as it was mutually advantageous. A letter of agreement (LOA) was negotiated and signed that authorized Ryan to contract with such airlines’ crewmembers “in connection with seasonal aircraft,” provided that Ryan management “has arranged for flight crew job opportunities to be offered” to Ryan crewmembers “in equal or greater number during the off-season”—meaning they would fly abroad during that busy season.

In the fall of 2001, JMC and Aer Lingus provided 14 pilots to Ryan, and according to the LOA, ALPA expected that those airlines would hire at least 14 Ryan crewmembers during the summer of 2002. Instead the events of Sept. 11, 2001, intervened and contributed to reduce air travel in the world market. Therefore, Ryan failed to abide by the terms of the LOA and provide for reciprocal jobs.

Ryan’s Master Executive Council filed a grievance seeking a make-whole remedy for Ryan’s failure to arrange for reciprocal foreign jobs for its crewmembers. The grievance proceeded to the System Board of Adjustment, where the Association argued that each foreign airline supplying pilots to Ryan must provide at least as many jobs the following summer for Ryan crewmembers as it provided pilots during the foreign off-season. Kevin Fagan of ALPA’s Representation led ALPA’s efforts in this case.

Ryan management argued that the LOA was only a “best efforts” agreement that could not be satisfied because of the events of September 11 and that additional domestic flying it secured in the interim satisfied the reciprocity requirements set forth in the LOA. Ryan management also argued that compliance with the reciprocal job LOA was “commercially impracticable” because of the unexpected events of September 11, events that reduced air travel.

Arbitrator Nolan rejected Ryan management’s arguments and sustained ALPA’s grievance for Ryan’s failure to arrange for 14 Ryan crewmembers to be offered “flight crew opportunities” by Aer Lingus and JMC during the summer of 2002. Arbitrator Nolan encouraged the parties to meet and attempt to agree upon an appropriate monetary settlement.

ALPA and Ryan management were unable to agree upon a remedy, so that issue was submitted to Arbitrator Nolan in a separate proceeding. His decision is due in the next few weeks.

ALPA Team at Mesaba

According to the Midwest MEC chairman, Capt. Jay Schnedorf, even before 9/11, the Midwest pilots had been closely following the airline’s economic path, noting trends in markets, passenger loads, and finances that indicated a downturn. The MEC chairman had actually set an exploratory meeting with management representatives for Sept. 12, 2001. That didn’t happen.

“We expected management to talk to us about possible furloughs,” says Capt. Schnedorf. “Then, as we watched the events unfold on September 11, we knew what was about to happen—furloughs and requests for concessions. They asked for those concessions in October.”

All along, Capt. Schnedorf and the Negotiating Committee chairman, Capt. Scott Hegland, kept in touch with ALPA’s Representation Department, seeking help with how to field the expected request for concessions. Consequently, when management formally asked for concessionary bargaining, the pilots were ready to respond.

“We knew exactly what to say,” Capt. Schnedorf says. “We gave them the process: economic analysis followed by evaluation and recommendation, and then the pilots made their decision. While we continued to monitor the situation, we rejected that request for concessions, based on the financial analysis, in January 2002.”

All in all, management came to the pilots three times requesting concessions, and three times the MEC rejected the request as unnecessary, based on the economic data and analysis assembled by ALPA’s Economic and Financial Analysis (E&FA) Department.

Again, the ALPA partnership concept worked, with input from Retirement and Insurance (Richard Pavel and Jack Parrack), E&FA (Bob Christy, Bill Despins, Marsha Eubanks, and Jeanette McClure), and pulling it all together into one package, Communications (David Berkley and Ron Lovas).

“Management had been requesting concessions for the last three years,” Capt. Hegland says, “throwing different numbers at us each time. And each time the ALPA team had to modify its presentation, which they did, making a professional presentation each time.”

The fourth request from management, however, came more in the form of a threat. Midwest management said that they would have to get concessions by July 16 or the airline would file for bankruptcy. While not unexpected, the ultimatum was nonetheless sobering.

The pilots had already agreed to a temporary reduction in pay rates in April, an interim measure while the E&FA Department finished another evaluation of the Midwest situation. That analysis, completed in May, bore out what the pilots strongly suspected—that to remain economically viable, the airline did need the pilots to make concessions. The Negotiating Committee sat down with management representatives in June, facing a looming July 15 deadline for agreement and ratification by the pilot group.

“We had actually started setting the stage for these negotiations in February,” says Capt. Hegland. “With input from Representation and other ALPA departments, we were talking to management about a wide variety of cost-saving measures outside the collective bargaining agreement. We wanted to prepare them for the direction we wanted to take in the negotiations.

“Not a whole lot of people thought we could pull it off. The company attorney said that we could not possibly do it in three weeks, because we wanted to rewrite the entire scheduling and productivity sections.”

But with continued support from ALPA and some hard-nosed bargaining at the table, the Midwest Negotiating Committee—Capts. Anthony Freitas, Gary Busch, Michael Rabbitt, and Hegland—pulled off a stunning coup.

“The final product we came up with produced what we both wanted to produce,” Capt. Hegland says. “We didn’t have to touch our pay rates, and our defined-benefit pension plan was kept in place along with our defined-contribution and 401(k) plans. We completely restructured our scheduling section, hours of service, and other areas in the agreement to reach management’s goal of a 10 percent increase in productivity.”

The negotiations were so efficient that the tentative agreement package was finished by July 8. The MEC held several road shows to explain the package to its pilots before the ratification vote on July 15. Bill Roberts and Dan Froehlich of the Representation Department stood alongside the MEC leaders in those efforts, answering all questions and putting the agreement into perspective from a national standpoint.

Because of the complexity of the new agreement, Midwest pilots actually cast their votes based on concepts. While the negotiators could basically agree on the concessions, producing the proper contract language would take a bit longer. No matter, Midwest pilots overwhelmingly approved the new contract on July 15, a day before management said they would file for bankruptcy.

Roberts and Froehlich, along with Michael Winston of the law firm Cohen, Weiss & Simon, continued helping the Negotiating Committee, and they refined the exact contract language. The final 5-year agreement was finished by late August.

While no one can predict with any accuracy the future of these kinds of business endeavors, Capt. Schnedorf says this agreement has worked well—so far. With the increased savings and lower cost per available seat mile in hand, Midwest Airlines was able to renegotiate lease arrangements on its airplanes and secure much-needed financing for operations—and expansion. Just as important, the airline began pursuing other contracts and markets.

“Because we were able to restructure to bring the airline’s cost differential down (without costing our pilots any money), Midwest Airlines was able to go after these other contracts,” Capt. Schnedorf says. “We are, in fact, calling pilots back because we are going to the new markets. None of this—new markets, additional flying, pilot recalls—would have happened if our negotiations had not fallen into place. If ALPA’s Representation Department had not been here to support us and help us, we couldn’t have made these things happen.”