Preparing to Lead
ALPA officers get an education in day-to-day council operations 

By Gavin Francis, Staff Writer
Air Line Pilot, April 2004, p.28

More than 100 newly elected union officers gathered in Herndon, Va., in February to attend ALPA’s annual Leadership Conference. The 4-day conference gives Association leaders an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of conducting union business, familiarize themselves with ALPA’s organizational structure and policies, and discover the many resources that are available to them through the unionwide facilities to support their local and master executive councils.

The purpose of the Conference is to provide new LEC officers with the tools they will need to manage their new responsibilities once they assume office.

The purpose of the Conference is to provide new local executive council officers with the tools they will need to manage their new responsibilities once they assume office. Participants are instructed on the conduct of meetings, strategies for communicating with members, the collective bargaining process, and other topics that can help them in their roles as council representatives.

"I wish we’d had this kind of training when I first got started," ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, told the attendees. "I would have been a much more effective union officer a lot earlier on."

Capt. Woerth applauded attendees for stepping up to lead at a time when ALPA members are forced to contend frequently with wage and benefit concessions, pilot furloughs, and airline bankruptcy proceedings.

"I appreciate that you have the courage and fortitude to take control of your own destiny, as well as the destinies of your fellow pilots," said Capt. Woerth. "Your willingness to serve ensures that this union will survive and prosper far into the future."

The Leadership Committee chairman, Capt. Dan Waldmann (United), echoed Capt. Woerth’s thanks but cautioned the new officers that they have their work cut out for them. "You’re taking office during a very difficult time," he said. "When times are good, our members think they have the best jobs in the world. When times are bad, they tend to blame ALPA. It just comes with the territory."

Staff members from a number of ALPA departments described the services each department offers and gave members a broad overview of issues they will be dealing with during their terms of office.

Brendan Kenny, senior legislative representative in ALPA’s Government Affairs Department, spoke to participants about ALPA’s participation in the political and legislative process and outlined a number of the Association’s legislative priorities. ALPA is currently engaged in lobbying efforts on a number of fronts, including aviation security, pension reform, and foreign cabotage.

"A lot of ALPA members believe that we should stay out of politics," Kenny said. "But ALPA’s founding leader, Dave Behncke, felt strongly that one of this organization’s primary functions was to lobby the Congress to protect line pilots."

Capt. Woerth agreed with that sentiment, insisting that many of ALPA’s victories have come as a direct result of the Association’s involvement in the political process.

"Politics is just part of the business of representing pilots," said Capt. Woerth. "It drives this industry, and to ignore it would make about as much sense as it would for a pilot to ignore gravity or the weather. We do it to our own detriment."

ALPA Communications Director Don Skiados spoke to attendees about the challenges of keeping local council members informed about union business. He spoke specifically about the difficulties of maintaining solidarity when individual pilots have strong feelings about contract issues during negotiations with management.

"What you say to your constituency is important," said Skiados. "But it’s especially important when you have to tell them something they may not want to hear."

Skiados acknowledged that union officers often have to make difficult decisions, but stressed that communicating "truthfully" with their pilot groups is the most important thing they can do.

"It’s not rocket science," said Skiados. "If we’re together, we win. If we’re not, we lose. It’s that simple."

ALPA staff members also updated attendees on aviation security, aviation safety, economic and financial issues, retirement and insurance, and legal developments that could affect their pilot groups. Staff members gave presentations within their specific areas of expertise, and discussed ALPA resources that council representatives frequently rely on in the course of carrying out their leadership responsibilities.

"ALPA has developed a strong and competent staff that works very closely with pilots to help process the business of this organization," said ALPA General Manager Jalmer Johnson. "Our number one priority is to defend the profession by providing the best services and resources to our members and their leaders."

On the final day of the Conference, the group had an opportunity to question a panel of National Officers—Capt. Woerth; Capt. Dennis Dolan, first vice-president; Capt. Paul Rice, vice-president-administration/secretary; and Capt. Chris Beebe, vice-president-finance/treasurer.

The "no holds barred" session prompted a number of questions that elicited thoughtful, and sometimes spirited, remarks from both the panel and the audience. This airing of views sparked wide-ranging discussion on a number of important topics, including whether the union would increase membership dues. The panel indicated that a raise in dues was not likely in the near future, nor was it something that they felt was necessary as the Association continues to operate within its budget.

At one point during the panel discussion, Capt. Anthony Michaels (Spirit) stood to address fellow pilots in response to a question about ALPA’s efforts to organize express carriers and gave an inspired speech about the importance of union solidarity.

"We’re all in this together," said Capt. Michaels. "This union represents each and every one of us, regardless of the uniforms we wear. My paycheck may say Spirit Airlines, but my dues say ALPA."

In addition to providing excellent leadership training to its members, the Conference also gives ALPA the opportunity to recognize individuals who have contributed in significant ways to help the Association reach its goals.

Dr. Warren Silberman, director of the Aeromedical Certification Division at the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, received an award for his work, as did Leadership Conference Committee member Capt. Frank Mayne (Delta), who will soon be retiring. Capt. Woerth presented the award to Capt. Mayne, noting his many years of service to the Association (see "Guest Editorial," page 9).

"Frank has been a member of ALPA for almost four decades," said Capt. Woerth. "He’s served ALPA in a number of capacities, including as an Education Committee chairman, as well as an ALPA executive vice-president. He has never, ever said no when he’s been asked to do anything. Frank Mayne is a pilot’s pilot, and a union man’s union man."

A fitting tribute, and perhaps something to aspire to for these men and women who have volunteered to lead their union into an uncertain future, and uphold the honor of their profession.