Revvin' Up the Reps

ALPA’s Leadership Conference trains a diverse group of pilots--elected by their peers--to be today’s and tomorrow’s ALPA representatives.

By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor
Air Line Pilot, May 2005, p.14

Seventy-one pilots attended this year’s Leadership Conference, held February 7-9 near ALPA’s Herndon, Va., office. They were a characteristically diverse group--white, black, Hispanic; male and female; U.S. and Canadian; military vets and career civilians; turboprop, small jet, medium jet, and widebody pilots; baby boomers, Gen X’ers, ’Tweeners, and Generation Y.

They took away many things--some tangible, such as the course materials and copious lists of ALPA resources--and some not so tangible: a new network of pilot contacts at other airlines; a deeper awareness of the resources available to them; new skills; a sharpened sense of ALPA history, of hope, of membership, of participation, of belonging, of strength in unity.

Under ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws, elected local council representatives make up, by definition, the Association’s highest governing body, the ALPA Board of Directors. They set Association policy and decide matters of utmost gravity to every pilot represented by ALPA.
Let’s meet a few of this newest crop of pilot leaders.

First Officer George Hines (Gemini first officer representative) is currently flying the DC-10. Technically, his domicile is JFK, but because Gemini flight crews are home-based, he lives in Miami Lakes, Fla.

"When I was 7, my parents divorced," F/O Hines recalls. "My Dad moved to California, and my mother stayed in Connecticut. "I flew back and forth between parents a lot. One time, a pilot took me into the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 707. I was in awe of what I saw. That’s when I decided to become a pilot."

Civilian-trained, F/O Hines flew Dash 7s for Paradise Airlines, then Dash 8s for Allegheny. While based in Binghamton, N.Y., with Allegheny, he served as local air safety chairman for 2 years, and central air safety chairman during his last year with the airline. Gemini hired him in April 2000.

"I was elected F/O rep in the spring of 2004," F/O Hines explains. "I’d done safety work [as an ALPA pilot volunteer], but I really wanted to get into representation. I wanted to help steer the direction of our pilot group in its relationship with management. I’d served as a member of our Negotiating Committee, from February 2004 until the signing of our first contract on Sept. 1, 2004."

To serve his fellow pilots as a safety representative while he flew for Allegheny, F/O Hines had attended ALPA’s Basic Safety School in 1997 and the ALPA Safety Two School the next year. "When I was doing safety work, we had a case that involved an FAA enforcement action," he remembers. "During that process, I became aware of the resources available to us from the ALPA Legal Department and the Engineering and Air Safety Department.

"The Leadership Conference taught me even more about what resources are available to us at ALPA. It increased my overall awareness of how ALPA works. And I learned more about how to prepare to represent a fellow flightcrew member."

F/O Hines feels, as did many of the attendees of the 2005 Leadership Conference, that compacting the 5-day course into half that time was not ideal. "I understand the financial constraints on the Association," he says, "but I think that if ALPA added another day to the conference, it would be better."

First Officer Matthew Jackson (Air Transat F/O rep) is based at Toronto’s Lester B. Pierson Airport and flies A330s.

"I recently ran into a classmate from elementary school," F/O Jackson confides. "He said, ‘You’re the only guy I knew in Grade 5 who knew what he wanted to do with his life career-wise, and did it.’

"I wear glasses, so I couldn’t get into the military. I trained at Edmonton Flying Club for my private and commercial certificates and went to Calgary for my instrument rating."

F/O Jackson’s first flying job was hauling skydivers in a Cessna 182 in Edmonton. From there, he graduated to flying charters in Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Next was a job flying Metros, Convairs, and B-737s for Jet All, now out of business. After a stint at Kelowna Flightcraft flying the Convair 580, he joined Air Transat in November 1998.

"Shortly after I joined Air Transat, I went to an LEC meeting," F/O Jackson recalls. "I said, ‘O.K., I’ll take something on’; I became the ALPA Airport Liaison Representative [ALR] at Toronto.

"Jim Stewart of our Toronto office put me in the ALR job. He also said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’ll also be the [ALPA] Regional Safety Coordinator for Ontario.’ I found myself dealing with everything from security to flight service station reorganization."

F/O Jackson attended an ALPA ALR training seminar in Seattle in 1999. He also attended ALPA’s Basic Accident Investigation Course and Basic Safety School.
"The rest of my training has been ‘baptism by fire,’" F/O Jackson notes. "You can talk about where to go for information and help, but you can’t train for every situation. If I need a question answered, I call [Capt.] Bob Perkins [Air Canada Jazz]."

He’s still ALPA’s Ontario Regional Safety Coordinator and Toronto ALR. He’s also one of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations delegates to the International Civil Aviation Organization Airport Design Committee, and the Aircraft Design and Operations rep for Canadian pilots at IFALPA.

Adding to all these responsibilities, F/O Jackson was elected F/O rep, beginning March 1. "The guy who’d been F/O rep for about 6 years decided not to run again," he explains. "I thought it was an opportunity to bring a new voice to the group."

The biggest item F/O Jackson took away from the Leadership Conference, he says, is "the amount of ALPA resources available--who I can go to for assistance, whether it involves legal, communications, safety, or other issues.

"[At Air Transat,] we’re about 250 pilots. We have one staff member in the office and the three of us on the MEC. You tend to think you’re all alone, that you have to do it all yourself; but in reality, you have all of ALPA’s resources at your disposal.

"I think that when you meet other pilots in a meeting like this, you realize that, as [ALPA’s president, Capt.] Duane [Woerth] said, ‘Regardless of the color of your airplane’s tail, we’re all in this together.’ We have common concerns.

"On Monday night, the last guys to leave the room were two guys from Alaska Airlines and me. If I ever have a problem in Anchorage, for example, I know who to call for some help."

Capt. Mike Buckley (Alaska captain rep) is one of the pilots F/O Jackson might call for help. A 1975 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Capt. Buckley learned to fly in the Air Force. Later, he flew for an air taxi in Fairbanks, Alaska. After 21 years with Alaska Airlines, 19 of them in Anchorage, he flies B-737-200s.

Capt. Buckley attended ALPA’s Basic Safety School and served his fellow pilots as local air safety chairman in Anchorage from 1992 through 2000. Before that, he had served as secretary/treasurer of Council 64 from 1987 until 1989.

So what made him step up to the plate again and serve as an elected pilot rep?

"We were in midterm contract negotiations," Capt. Buckley recalls. "The captain rep resigned. I threw my hat into the ring to make sure the mid-term negotiations went properly. The negotiations transitioned into regular Section 6 negotiations; and we were going into binding arbitration on March 1." Days after returning from the Leadership Conference, Capt. Buckley joined other members of the Alaska Airlines’ pilot group’s MEC in Seattle for a meeting to develop strategy for the upcoming arbitration.

The Leadership Conference, he says, "went into a bunch of areas of ALPA that I didn’t know very well. The interaction with the National Officers and the staff was great.
"My one complaint was that I wish it had been longer. A lot of the mechanics--working a budget and running a meeting--got shortchanged. But it was still a valuable conference--even for someone who’s been involved in ALPA work."

Capt. David Blomgren (America West captain rep) is based in Phoenix, Ariz., and flies B-757s. He’s also an FAA-designated examiner, giving checkrides for private pilots through ATPs at nearby Scottsdale and Deer Valley airports.

Civilian-trained, Capt. Blomgren went to work for America West in May 1987. He is one of a dwindling breed--an airline captain who’s worked for only one airline his entire career.

Not long after America West’s pilots voted, in 1993, for ALPA representation, Capt. Blomgren became active in MEC activities. "I sort of always worked in the background," he explains. "I did special projects for the MEC. In 2001-02, I was on the Strategic Analysis Committee. We looked at the company’s books."

Capt. Blomgren frankly admits that, later, "I was part of a drive to get rid of ALPA. Some of us felt that ALPA wasn’t working hard enough for us. My Dad’s retired from Delta; my brother’s over at United, and I have lots of friends at United. I saw how ALPA worked at Delta and United.

"We didn’t get enough cards [to decertify ALPA]," he continues, "so then I figured, ‘Well, I’ll try this and see if I can change it from the inside.’" He was elected captain rep in October 2004.

"My biggest complaint about ALPA was that it wasn’t aggressive enough," Capt. Blomgren explains. "But at the Leadership Conference, [Capt.] Duane [Woerth] and [ALPA Director of Communications] Don Skiados said ALPA’s leaders had decided to become more aggressive. They said things like, ‘We’re going back to our roots, like 30 years ago. We’ve given enough concessions. Enough is enough!’ I was very happy to hear that.

"After the [Leadership] Conference, [the AWA MEC] had a get-together with the ALPA Representation Department. They said that, whatever we needed, they’d back us up.

"Almost everyone I talked to at the Conference--pilots from United, Delta, all over--said the same thing before the Conference even started: they all took the job to bring about change."

Capt. Blomgren adds, "One of my biggest fears as a captain rep was that someone would lose his career because I screwed up [in representing him]. I’d let the other captain rep handle pilot representation cases. At the Conference, I found the tools needed and will start to sit in with him on some of these and learn the ropes."

F/O Garland Jones (US Airways F/O rep) is based in Boston and flies A320s.

An Embry-Riddle grad, F/O Jones served in the U.S. Air Force for 9 years. He flew F-4s in Vietnam, then F-15s. He went to work for Continental in 1979, but was furloughed shortly thereafter. He joined Eastern Airlines in 1980, and spent about 3 months on strike in 1989. He moved to the Trump Shuttle in a systemwide bid later that year; US Airways bought the Shuttle in 1998.

After a quarter-century as an airline pilot, F/O Jones decided to run for his first volunteer position within ALPA, because, in his own words, "I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to get the truth out to the pilots. ALPA, like any political organization, was suffering from politics--a self-preserving bias to filter information to the pilots."
He was elected F/O rep in January 2004.

F/O Jones acknowledges that his style of communicating has been "kind of controversial. Sometimes the truth is painful. People either love you or hate you for it, with no in-between. Last year we went through major restructuring and bankruptcy [at US Airways]. When you’re in that kind of situation, well, I had a year to practice telling the sometimes painful truth.

"One time we went for two weeks straight [in concessionary bargaining]. You’re literally fighting for your own existence. We made it happen--we got a TA [tentative agreement], and we’re still standing."

Asked his reaction to the Leadership Conference, F/O Jones says, "We have a very impressive toolbox of resources available to us at ALPA--very professional and dedicated ALPA volunteers and staff. I think line pilots would be very impressed. Everyone at ALPA has the interests of the line pilot at heart.

"What also impressed me is that ALPA’s leaders are so aware of what we’re going through and that we need to do what we have to do," he continues. "It’s very refreshing to see the ALPA leaders’ awareness of the necessity to make the hard decisions for us to remain a player. They all understand that it’s that simple, that basic, though painful.

"Every [pilot group] is different--one size does not fit all. We all need to do what we have to do to preserve our airlines. Our airline, with our seniority system, is something worth preserving."

F/O Jones offers "compliments to everyone involved in bringing about this excellent Leadership Conference. Lots of volunteers and staff worked hard to make it a success.
"[Capt.] Bob Gaudioso [US Airways] and the other members of the Leadership Conference Committee believe in their cause, and they’ve already begun planning how to make it even better the next time," he continues. "This is all about training the new rep and never losing focus on giving that rep the tools needed, and the encouragement and the vision that rep needs to do the job to the best of his or her ability."

F/O Jones adds, "The receptiveness of [Capt.] Duane Woerth and all the ALPA vice-presidents to our questions during the fireside chat Tuesday night was very heartening. We have the right--in fact, the responsibility--to challenge the policies of our union. We asked some very tough questions. It’s refreshing to see that they’re willing to take on the toughest questions and give us hard, straight answers.

"To be able to ask those kinds of questions and get straight answers," F/O Jones emphasizes, "involves our union’s collective leadership understanding our situation.
"I think all the new reps came out of the Conference thinking, ‘They recognize me as a leader,’" he continues. "I was very impressed that everyone said, ‘You guys will have to find both the problems and the solutions--you come up with both.’ That’s huge out here; bitching about the problem is no good if you don’t help fix it.

"This is not a spectator sport--if you’re a spectator, you’re just going to stand on the sidelines and watch while other people make decisions that will affect you, so you better come in here and play. When you have to come up with $300 million--and that’s just from the pilot group--you’re making decisions that affect their lives. If you’re a spectator, you’re just a critic."

F/O Julie Savage (Comair F/O rep), based in Covington, Ky., and now a CRJ pilot, recalls, "When I was 7 years old, I went on a United flight to Florida. The captain invited me to sit in the captain’s seat of the Boeing 727. He asked, ‘Young lady, do you think you’d like to do this for a living when you grow up?’ and I thought, YES!

"My dad’s been a lead mechanic for United for 27 years. I started flying during high school at Lake in the Hills. Then I went to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale --the Flying Salukis. I finished the four-year flight program there in three years."

F/O Savage competed in National Intercollegiate Flying Association flying competitions; in 1999, she was the top female pilot, and third overall, at NIFA’s SAFECON. American Airlines offered internships to her and the top male pilot.

"They asked me what department I’d like to work in," F/O Savage recalls. "I knew I wanted to be an airline pilot, so I asked if I could work in the hiring department at Eagle. I went to Dallas for that internship for four months. American wanted us to jumpseat all the time, so it was neat to see how that worked.

"Then I drove to Denver for a four-month internship with United--a lifelong dream of mine. They asked me to be the intern coordinator at United. United checked me out in all the sims; it was the experience of a lifetime."

F/O Savage’s first airline piloting job was for American Eagle; she flew ATRs throughout the Caribbean from Eagle’s base in San Juan, P.R. Her next move was to Chicago, on the Embraer Regional Jet, then the Saab 340 in New York.

"I wanted to be an F/O rep at Eagle," she points out, "but after 9/11, I was either going to be furloughed, or switch domiciles."

Comair hired her in June 2002.

"I’m really proud of the company I work for," she enthuses. "I realize the times we’re in are changing constantly. What better way to be part of that change than to serve as an elected ALPA representative?"

She was elected F/O rep in her domicile on Dec. 10, 2004. "Since about a week after that, I’ve been in MEC meetings," she laughs. "Management came to us in January to make a change to our working agreement. So I got to be superinvolved from the very beginning. The MEC wanted the new captain rep and me to go to the ALPA Leadership Conference, so we did."

F/O Savage says the biggest thing she took away from the Leadership Conference was "a sense of history--the people I met there, the stories they told about the struggles we’ve had, the successes we’ve had. I learned about all the great things our predecessors accomplished. But I also gained more insight into what obstacles they faced and what we’re facing now. I have a deep personal pride in being part of that history."

She adds, "I knew, going into this, it would be tough. There’s a lot of uncertainty in our industry right now, a lot of things we can’t control. But as the saying goes, ‘Control what you can control.’"

F/O Savage enjoyed having, at the Leadership Conference, "an opportunity to meet up with a lot of pilots from other groups. It was particularly interesting to me to meet the pilots from Atlantic Southeast and Delta, because we are one family of flying and face obstacles together. There’s nothing better than sharing stories and ideas. I’m 25 years old; I’m very young in this profession. It’s very comforting to meet people who’ve been through other hard times in the past and weathered these hardships."

F/O Victor Castro (American Eagle LEC secretary/treasurer) is based in Boston and flies Embraer Regional Jets.
Like several of his fellow pilots and ALPA reps, F/O Castro got the urge to fly when, as a 7-year-old, the captain of an airline flight invited him to the cockpit. He grew up in New York, but went to college in Philadelphia.

"One day I just woke up and decided I was going to learn to fly," says F/O Castro. He started flying lessons at Northeast Philadelphia Airport while still in school.
After earning a private pilot certificate, F/O Castro applied for, and was accepted into, the U.S. Marine Corps aviation program. He flew A-4s but lost his flying status after a bad ankle fracture.

Back in civilian life, he returned to North Philly and worked as a flight instructor. American Eagle hired him as a Saab 340 copilot in August 2000.

"I started my ALPA volunteer work as grievance chairman in Boston in December 2003," F/O Castro explains. "I had filed so many grievances that, when the captain who was serving as grievance chairman moved to another domicile, I was asked to take over, because the pilot group needed someone who was very familiar with the process. We have more than 250 grievances on file right now--they range from procedural issues and scheduling to termination grievances."

Elected LEC secretary/treasurer with his term beginning in March, F/O Castro says he got an eyeful at the Leadership Conference.

"I left the Leadership Conference exhausted," he confides. "We started early in the morning and worked well into the evening every day, for four days straight. It was a very intense four days, but it allowed me to get a handle on all the facts of ALPA and how they interact.

"My biggest impression from the Conference was the need for mainline and regional pilots to form a consensus on how we’re going to deal with the important issues affecting all of us--protecting the profession, retirement, pay, and other benefits. For the first time, I felt that mainline pilots weren’t looking at regional pilots as the enemy. We’re all in this together."