Air Line Pilot, September 2001

President's Forum: Playing with a Stacked Deck

Duane Woerth, ALPA PresidentRepublican Senators John McCain (Ariz.), Trent Lott (Miss.), and Conrad Burns (Mont.) of the Senate Commerce Committee have offered in a bill, S.1327, their version of how airline employees’ collective bargaining should work. This measure, which ought to be titled the Airline Profit and Employer Protection Bill, is the most blatant and outrageous attack on collective bargaining in recent memory.

The bill calls for the "emergency" intervention of the Secretary of Transportation in an airline labor dispute. The Secretary would order binding arbitration whenever an airline collective bargaining dispute threatens to interrupt flights at any hub airport, flights that might affect foreign commerce or the balance of trade, or flights that might threaten U.S. national security or foreign policy interests.

The bill is a thinly disguised attempt to bypass the Railway Labor Act and stack the deck in management’s favor. Not only would the measure deprive airline employees of their right to strike at the end of the traditional 30-day cooling-off period, it would shape the arbitrator’s award to hand airline managements every bargaining advantage they could possibly require.

The arbitrator would have to consider the following stipulations in any decision to increase rates of pay: "The financial condition of the carrier and its ability to incur changing labor costs while continuing to maintain its competitive market position, pay its debt, meet its other contractual obligations, provide job security and equal treatment for all its employees, [and] return a reasonable profit consistent with historical margins and rates of return for its shareholders."

Meeting those conditions and giving employees a raise in pay would be nearly impossible. And just in case some rogue arbitrator would decide in favor of the employees, an airline would not have to accept the arbitrator’s award if it does not meet these stipulations. The bill also defines "rates of pay" to include wages, vacations, holidays, excused time, insurance, defined pension contributions, profit sharing, medical hospitalization—in other words, every disputed contract item that has cost must be frozen if an increase would adversely affect a carrier’s profitability.

If this law had been in place two years ago, the Comair pilots would not have been able to raise their $14,500 a year starting pay. The Delta, Northwest, and United pilots would not have won compensation improvements. Midwest Express pilots would not have been able to win a new contract after waiting for 14 years. Probably worst of all, important job security provisions could be completely lost through the all-or-nothing "baseball style" arbitration proposed in this bill.

S.1327 tears the heart out of collective bargaining. The bill is, at best, redundant with the Railway Labor Act—a solution in search of a problem. At worst, the bill is a scam designed to protect airline management from having to bargain fairly with employees. It’s a stacked deck, a rigged game with not one ounce of fairness. The sponsors of the bill know this.

ALPA and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO will rally every available resource to fight this bill. In addition, this should be a clarion call for ALPA members to contribute to ALPA-PAC and to support the Association’s strong presence on Capitol Hill.

s/Duane E. Woerth