ALPA Members Securing Their Future

Air Line Pilot, February 2004, p.32

At Home in the House of Labor

"The Bundle of Sticks"—Aesop’s Timeless Wisdom

An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a bundle of sticks and said to his eldest son, "Break it." The son strained and strained but, in spite of all his efforts, was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them succeeded. "Untie the bundle of sticks," said the father, "and each of you take a stick." When they had done so, he called out to them: "Now, break," and each stick was easily broken. "You see my meaning," said their father.

Like the bundle of sticks in the fable, pilots, when united, cannot be broken. ALPA‘s founding was driven by the strength that comes from having all airline pilots under one union—strength in unity. ALPA’s leaders reaffirmed this chief principle with its pilot unity resolution of October 2000.

Today, ALPA’s strength extends far beyond its 66,000 members to its affiliation with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and its 64 national and international labor unions; to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), which represents 2.3 million unionized workers; and to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, which represents more than 100,000 airline pilots of 190 countries.

One question that ALPA pilots often ask is, "Why are we in the AFL-CIO?" For many, the answer lies in simple math—the AFL-CIO has 13 million members, and ALPA has 66,000. For others, it is that ALPA’s affiliation with the AFL-CIO and the CLC gives the Association clout in many arenas that other pilot groups do not enjoy.

The AFL-CIO unions represent teachers and teamsters, musicians and miners, firefighters and farm workers, bakers and bottlers, engineers and editors, pilots and public employees, doctors and nurses, painters and laborers—and more. In the AFL-CIO, workers and unions find the opportunity to combine strength and to work together to improve the lives of America’s working families, to bring fairness and dignity to the workplace, and to secure social and economic equity.

A critical early decision

In the early days of the Association, the primary fear haunting ALPA’s "Key Men" was that if they did not succeed in establishing ALPA as an effective vehicle for pilot representation, pilots would almost certainly never get another chance.

The Key Men knew that they needed to affiliate with a national union to increase the possibility of success for ALPA. The original thought was to affiliate with the Railroad Brotherhood. But ALPA’s founder and first president, Capt. Dave Behncke, convinced them to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor.

In 1932, the Association tried to organize pilots of airlines scattered throughout the United States. It was also about to face its first strike with the management of Century Airlines, which employed about 20 pilots to fly Stinson trimotors serving Chicago; Springfield, Ill.; and St. Louis. This relatively insignificant strike, in terms of numbers, would ultimately become the single most important event in the development of airline flying as a profession and the establishment of ALPA as a force to be reckoned with.

When the unusual spectacle of a strike by airline pilots hit the newspapers, the connection with the AFL began to pay off. The AFL’s president publicly blasted Century management, citing substandard wages, and ordered the Illinois State Federation of Labor into action on ALPA’s behalf. The secretary of the State Federation promptly went to work devising a publicity campaign, setting up a strike fund, and mapping strategy.

Without the support of the AFL, ALPA probably would not have been able to sustain itself during the strike. If ALPA had gone to Washington, D.C., to get support, the Association would have been seen as a weak, unaffiliated organization. But the affiliation with the AFL ensured just the opposite.

Today, when ALPA members set up strike centers or walk picket lines, they do so with the support of their union colleagues. When ALPA members walked the picket lines during the Comair strike, members of the Association of Flight Attendants walked the line with them. When the Atlas Air Cargo Master Executive Council set up a strike center in Miami, the local Teamsters made available their union hall. Every day, brother and sister union members either buy union or fly union—strength in numbers.

The more than 70 years of affiliation with the AFL-CIO continues to enable ALPA to call upon the economic and political power of the Federation and its 13 million members.

ALPA’s President serves on the AFL-CIO Executive Council and is vice-president of its Transportation Trades Department.

Founded in April 1990, the TTD represents the interests of several million aviation, rail, transit, trucking, highway, and longshore workers before Congress, the Executive Branch, and independent government agencies.

Through the TTD, its 35 affiliated unions have a strong, united voice in Washington, D.C. In addition, ALPA’s President participates in international trade bodies such as the International Transportation Federation and the International Labor Organization.

Extending the reach

In Canada, ALPA is affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress. To understand the relationship that ALPA has with the CLC, you first have to examine the history of ALPA’s presence in Canada.

Before 1997, ALPA did not represent any Canadian airline pilots. At that time, the Canadian Air Line Pilots Association represented the majority of Canadian pilots.

CALPA was formed on Dec. 1, 1937, to consolidate and present airline pilots’ views regarding aviation concerns and had the authority to voice their concerns when necessary.

ALPA was involved in the formation of CALPA (a story for another time), and over the decades, CALPA became a respected voice in aviation circles and thus fulfilled the aims of its founders.

In 1996, the Air Canada pilots left CALPA and formed their own group, the Air Canada Pilots Association.

The remaining members of CALPA then arranged a merger with ALPA, which took effect on Feb. 1, 1997.

Before 1997, CALPA was not associated with the Canadian Labour Congress.

When ALPA and CALPA merged, ALPA sought and formed an association with the CLC.

Like ALPA’s relationship with the AFL-CIO, the Association’s affiliation with the CLC unites ALPA with other unions and provides a single voice for labor issues and solidarity with other labor unions in Canada.

Although sympathy strikes in Canada are illegal, Canadian labor unions traditionally provide moral support and have walked the picket lines with other labor members.

Once again—strength in unity.