Air Line Pilot, April 2001

President's Forum: Turbulence Ahead

Duane Woerth, ALPA PresidentThe early initiatives of the Bush Administration and its backup team on Capitol Hill have brought no great surprises to anyone familiar with the political scene in Washington, D.C. The President’s public threat to void airline workers’ right to strike has already undermined labor negotiations and is consistent with his overall agenda to pander to business interests at the expense of those who must work for a living. Attacks on workers’ safety, union wages, personal solvency, and collective bargaining have begun with a fervor we have not witnessed since the early 1980s. Big business support of an anti-worker political agenda drew blood during the last election cycle, and the sharks are circling closer and closer.

Airline pilots know, all too well, that we cannot always fly through blue skies—that sometimes we have to fly in or around stormy weather. We look ahead, estimate the strength and direction of the storm, double-check our resources, build a plan to safely get to our destination, and then move forward, adjusting our flight path as required. We follow this same course in the political arena.

Many years ago, when ALPA’s Board of Directors established our Global Pilot Strategy, we projected the size and strength of the obstacles we would face, set a course, and took off. ALPA’s plan to create a unified voice for airline pilots—part of the Global Pilot Strategy—is even more important now. We must strengthen and use effectively all of our professional resources and political clout. And as we do not want to hand the sharks any advantage to use against us, all of our actions must remain within the laws and regulations that govern our collective bargaining.

Recently, some airline managements have waged a campaign with the public to blame flight delays on "labor problems" when, in fact, mismanagement, bad weather, and the need for ATC modernization are the real culprits. Labor problems do exist. When management declares "open season" on employees, labor problems will arise. Some airline officials, however, are trying to work with their employees. They recognize the advantages of offering fair wages and working conditions. They are proffering early bargaining dates to correct compensation, retirement, and work rule inadequacies that have arisen as other airline workers successfully conclude bargaining.

Achieving pattern bargaining in the airline industry is no longer enough to ensure our continued success. We now must work to establish a pattern for "best practices" in bargaining—the best timelines and procedures to conclude agreements so that we do not have to go through a 30-day cooling-off period, only to have the President intervene when we seek self-help.

To create this pattern of best practices, we must ensure that every ALPA pilot group, no matter what size, that goes into collective bargaining has available every possible ALPA resource. In addition, I think we ought to drop the use of the management labels "regional jet" and "regional airline" from ALPA’s vocabulary. In many instances, nothing is "regional" about these airlines or aircraft anymore. They fly from southern Mexico to Halifax, N.S.—indeed, their "region" is the Western Hemisphere. So, let’s stop referring to Bombardier or Embraer jets as "regional" jets, when our members already pilot them on international flights. Let’s not help airline management and aircraft manufacturers limit pilot pay

s/Duane E. Woerth