Curing Our Contract Disease

By Capt. Duane Woerth, ALPA President
Air Line Pilot, May 2005, p.5

Owning a home is a full-time job. Between maintaining air conditioning and heating, replacing carpets and appliances, repairing water damage and roofs--it takes money, time, and effort to care for our home investment. No matter how much you can do on your own, eventually you need to call in an expert. We all know the drill: look the electrician up, have him give you an estimate, and take that leap of faith and agree to the work. Then what happens? You pray he wasn’t lying or wrong, works quickly, does the work right. And when he’s done, you pray the bill doesn’t exceed the estimate. We’ve all heard (or lived) a horror story of home repair gone wrong. "Sorry, the part won’t be in for a month." "Took me twice as long as I thought it would." "There’s a lot more damage than I thought." Money…time…effort…frustration.

That’s exactly what a lot of our pilots live every day. We have paid for our airline "homes" by investing billions of dollars via concessions to give managements the tools they need to restructure. They are up in the corporate suites working on their plans. And, meanwhile, what is happening at the pilot level? Managements fail to honor even minor aspects of our contracts, to either make a point or feel powerful in their pettiness.

At one airline, pilots who have given billions of dollars have been rewarded by micromanagement of their sick leave--putting approval in the hands of bean-counting bureaucrats instead of chief pilots. Oh, and pilots need to provide additional information to prove they were ill. Nice way to say thank you.
Contracts are being ignored across the airline industry. Mesa Air Group CEO Jonathan Ornstein praised his employees after the airline won 2005 Regional Airline of the Year: "The selection of Mesa for this honor is a validation of the hard work and dedication of our 5,000 employees." But his real reward for his pilots is a huge backlog of grievances (now being dealt with) that crippled morale and will cost the company $260,000--mostly due to aggravated mishandling of the scheduling process.
I have one simple statement for managements that are looking to step on our contracts: A deal is a deal--and one way or the other you will honor your word. Pilots have made great sacrifices and are major investors in our companies--and we pilots will be treated with dignity.

Now what can I, as ALPA President, do to help pilots fight and win these battles? I intend to take the following three first steps in the coming months to make a dent in the pile of compliance issues mounting on our properties:

Airline pilots have earned and receive the unfailing respect of the flying public. They trust us with their lives and loved ones. That should make each of us proud to wear our uniforms. We will not stand idly by as managements continue to abuse our contracts, and we will do all we can to make them treat us with the same respect that our customers and I have for you all.

This is no idle threat. Just ask the management teams at Pan Am and Ryan. We are taking them to task in court over their serial contract violations and their refusal to live by arbitration awards. Stay tuned for a full report in coming months as our efforts on these and other properties reach a conclusion.

s/Duane E. Woerth