Air Line Pilot, February 2003, p. 4

President’s Forum: Pilots Under Attack

Airline pilots are, once again, under attack from zealous extremists. This is neither a skirmish nor a diversionary tactic, but a full assault on our livelihoods, our careers, our profession, and our very lives. This attack, however, is not being led by terrorists. Our foes are from within our own airlines and governments.

Clearly, some U.S. airline executives have mounted a campaign to neuter the collective bargaining strength of their employees. This attack, being orchestrated collectively through an airline coalition known as the Committee for Economic Strength through Aviation, is designed to disarm airline employees through legislation by removing their right to strike or to bargain for meaningful contracts.

Rather than examining their own failed business models, such as the "hub-and-broke" operating system, airline executives have turned to their employees’ compensation and work rules for cost savings to convince U.S. government officials that the carriers can return to profitability or emerge from bankruptcy. Despite congressional action to help airlines recover from financial setbacks that are related to the terrorist attacks, the White House is using the funds and promises of loan guarantees to bludgeon carriers until they submit to demands to restructure into some as-yet-undefined, profit-generating, low-cost (and perhaps nonunion) means of transportation.

And then, what little gross revenue the airlines are currently able to snare, our governments are gleaning back into their coffers through excessive taxes and fees. Those same airline executives who are using their employees as cannon fodder during this crisis are also crying out for our help to lobby our governments in opposition to unreasonable taxation. The duplicity on management’s part is as arrogant as it is destructive, for how effective can union lobbying be if we can no longer wield our collective strength?

In addition to this frontal attack on airline employees’ collective bargaining, the White House is taking action to trap in a quagmire of paperwork any opportunity for unions to advance our agenda. The Administration is changing Labor Department reporting requirements for union finances and expenditures that will cost organized labor millions of dollars to produce and will require massive amounts of research, documentation, and accounting.

So what can we do about all this? ALPA members, when confronted with a problem or crisis, want to fix it.

Step 1 has to be to get airline managements, the news media, and our government officials to stop blaming employees for the ills of the airline industry. ALPA members have always tried to gain their fair share of the bounty, or accept their fair share of the losses, airlines experience. Current bargaining at United and US Airways are good examples of what ALPA members can do when required.

In the next few months, ALPA will begin an extensive and comprehensive communications initiative to pre-sent compelling facts about how Association members are working to ensure the survival of the airline industry and about how counterproductive labor-bashing is to resolving the problems.

Step 2 has to be to help airline managements find some way to return carriers and their holding companies to profitability. In addition to seeking plausible business models that ensure employees are part of the solution, passenger and airline taxes must be returned to their congressionally intended use—to build and maintain the airline industry infrastructure, rather than continue to be used as some accounting ploy to allegedly balance the federal budget.

ALPA’s financial and economic analysts and contract administrators will continue to help pilot groups to bargain with airline managements for fair working agreements that allow failing carriers to revive and grow, to advance pilots’ goals, where possible, and to protect the long-term interests of the piloting profession. We must pursue lobbying and communications efforts to reverse or redirect airline passenger and carrier taxes so that those funds can be used to rebuild the airline industry rather than to destroy it.

Step 3 has to be to thwart, in every possible forum, the destructive efforts of individuals and groups who want to use the current short-term U.S. economic downturn and airline financial crisis to justify their long-held goals to nullify any remaining strength of organized labor. This issue, alone, should dispel any questions that U.S. or Canadian flightcrew members have about why we need a single voice for all airline pilots through an international union or about whether we should continue to donate part of our hard-won wages to union political action committees.

s/Duane E. Woerth