Taking Ownership Of Our Union

By Capt. Paul Rice, Vice-President-Administration/Secretary
Air Line Pilot,
February 2004, p.8

Every ALPA member has a stake in the Association’s successes. We share the benefits of new contracts, of lobbying efforts, of legal battles, and of our union’s world-renowned safety achievements. That also means that, as stakeholders of a collective, democratic organization, we share the burdens. The U.S. Constitution and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee us the right to belong to unions. But the long-term success of our union falls on our shoulders—on each of us. We must take responsibility for our successes and failures. We must, in a constructive fashion, participate in the affairs of ALPA. We must take ownership of our union if we are to continue to build on our collective strengths.

Reflecting upon the changes in the airline industry is not enough—we must anticipate change and retool our union to meet all challenges head-on. To succeed, each of us must accept our individual responsibilities and take ownership of our union.

I realize that participation in ALPA competes with many other priorities in our lives. Our professional and family requirements often do not allow us much opportunity for personal involvement in the affairs of our union. But all of us can participate beyond merely paying dues or weighing in with web-board chatter.

To facilitate new ways to participate, your union leadership is changing the way ALPA conducts business to adapt our union to our ever-changing lifestyles and to the evolving airline industry. ALPA has continually made changes in response to member needs since its creation in 1931. In the beginning, ALPA members were employed by airlines of similar size and structures, and pilots had similar lifestyles and professional needs.

During ALPA’s early years, piloting jobs were not as transient, and each of the pilot groups could function with similar structures. Pilots lived near their domiciles, so it was easier, then, to attend local executive council and master executive council functions.

But times have changed. The airline industry has changed. We now are the collective bargaining representatives for pilots of more than 40 airlines. Some of our pilot groups fly for large carriers, other fly for small carriers. Some pilots fly cargo, others fly passengers. Some pilots commute long distances, while others must move with their upgrade assignments or management-inspired domicile changes. Some of us fly to the far side of the world, while others are home at the end of the day.

Clearly, ALPA can no longer use a "one-size-fits-all" approach for our representational structure.

A large part of my responsibility as vice-president–administration/secretary, with the help of ALPA’s dedicated staff, is to channel constructive proposals for structural change to our governing bodies for their consideration. Once those changes are approved, my office oversees their implementation.

Our traditional multicouncil, status-based, representational structure has now been supplemented with several new variations; for example, geographically arranged U.S. domicile-based councils, single-council MECs, and larger councils that split their status positions for better representation. Still another choice is to employ a seniority-block representation model instead of the traditional captain, first officer, and second officer status representatives. With this model, representatives come from within their respective seniority blocks. In times of airline retraction or expansion, this model ensures a broad spectrum of representatives that mirror the pilot group—this may be the model of the future.

We are looking for new ways to facilitate better communication within pilot groups and between the international union leadership and our members. For some pilot groups, traditional MEC and LEC meetings may no longer be the best way to serve members or to update them on union activities and issues that affect them. We are exploring new web-based technology that may provide new tools that pilot groups can use to reach their members and for members to reach their union leaders.

We have updated ALPA’s election and balloting system to conform to today’s electronic age. Elections and voting (other than an LEC nomination meeting) are now done through the Internet or using telephones. LEC leaders’ terms of office have been increased to 3 years to allow for a more stable base of union leadership and to preserve institutional memory among MEC and Board of Directors delegates.

Our union’s goal is to effectively represent all of the airline pilots in the United States and Canada. Reflecting upon the changes in the airline industry is not enough—we must anticipate change and retool our union to meet all challenges head-on. To succeed, each of us must accept our individual responsibilities and take ownership of our union.