Support ALPA-PAC

By Capt. W.J. Huggins, FedEx Master Executive Council Vice-Chair
Air Line Pilot, February 2004, p.9

When the cargo cabotage provision was included in the recently passed FAA Reauthorization Bill, the aspect that made an indelible impression on me was how easily critical legislation can be surreptitiously introduced and become law. That a single senator was able to exert such leverage and influence to advance his personal agenda was a serious eye-opener. Although his proposals would seem to serve the interests of a relative few, such legislation may eventually jeopardize an entire profession and perhaps do serious long-term damage to our U.S. economy. The fact that getting cabotage enacted was a pure political power play makes it all that more repugnant.

Our PAC and our lobbyists are always front and center on Capitol Hill and have a record of effectiveness way beyond any letter-writing campaigns we have ever had. 

Nobody is naive enough to think that this kind of practice is an aberration in Washington, D.C., but unfortunately, advancing selfish pieces of legislation is an all-too-common practice and is executed well by members of both houses of Congress on both sides of the aisle. And in the execution of truly effective power politics, being in a position of special influence helps, as in the case of the good Senator Stevens (R) of Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With little influence as individual voters, we citizens can seldom exert pressure to change that process or the political landscape except in rare cases in which many are motivated to a common action (e.g., California’s gubernatorial situation). Very rarely are our individual frustrations or wishes manifest or heard. Money talks loudest in Washington, D.C., along with large and motivated voter blocks, and sometimes that means that ill-advised and myopic legislation can have life.

As U.S. citizens and professional aviators, when Congress’s machinations stand to threaten our pensions, our rights under the Railway Labor Act, or our rights to fly our own domestic skies, we can do very little, outside of the influence and leverage that we can apply through ALPA. Our Association is our only real hope against the vagaries of those who do not hold our best interests dear. It is the only entity we have, as a professional group, to lobby our causes and our issues. Our ability to reward "good behavior" (as in actions beneficial to our specific concerns as professional pilots) in a significant way is essential for us, and that ability is sometimes the only key to doors otherwise locked to us. ALPA-PAC is a critical source and voice of that power.

As a political conservative, I admit to having some problems with some of the recipients of my PAC money, and I still exercise considerable compartmentalization in coming to terms with their benefiting from my dollars.

On occasion, I voice my objections and try to influence the direction that our unionwide officers chart in this regard. On the other hand, I deeply resent members of my own historically preferred political party trying to attack my pension, abrogate my rights under the RLA, or "liberalize" the skies over my head.

I do not believe that the price of my voting my preferences on taxes, national defense, school vouchers, etc., etc., should be my sacrificing my way of making a living.

Somehow, I just do not believe that all of my "strong letters" to Senators Alexander, Frist, Lott, McCain, and Stevens have that much impact—if thousands of us weigh in, we can sometimes be heard. But our PAC and our lobbyists are always front and center on Capitol Hill and have a record of effectiveness way beyond any letter-writing campaigns we have ever had. So I write my strong letters for self-catharsis but rely on ALPA-PAC and ALPA’s lobbyists to save my job.

I believe that airline managements contribute to both Republicans and Democrats because historically, objectively, realistically, it works to their benefit. We pilots can sometimes be blind to the fact that politics can be a dirty, full-contact exercise. Sometimes, we are much more inclined to assume staunch positions and support individuals based on principle and trust that those good people will prevail on our behalf and that meritorious arguments will always carry the day. Unfortunately, being correct or right is not necessarily associated with political success, and absolute trust in elected representatives can leave you disappointed.

That leaves us with few effective options if we are not to witness the wholesale degradation of our profession, ironically, at the hands of somebody for whom we may have voted!

I urge you, if you are not already a contributor, to reassess your position on supporting ALPA-PAC. Reserve the right to object when you do not agree with where your money goes and let the appropriate parties be apprised. But do not let those internal and fraternal objections blind you to the fact that your PAC is the very last line of defense you may have to preserve your pension, your security, or your career as an airline pilot.