Air Line Pilot, May 2003

President’s Forum:  Sharing the Burden

As this "President’s Forum" is being prepared, I am attending the 58th annual meeting of the Inter-national Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, in Portugal. ALPA’s first vice-president, Capt. Dennis Dolan, has been elected president of IFALPA. This is the first time in nearly 50 years that an ALPA officer has held that top IFALPA position. More about that meeting will appear in an upcoming issue, but the weakened state of the airline industry is foremost on the minds of all the delegates from more than 90 countries. They believe, correctly, that the current financial ills facing U.S. and Canadian carriers will adversely affect the global
airline industry.

We have worked closely with many of these airline pilot unions to help them achieve bargaining agreements that improve provisions covering pay and compensation, safety, and quality of life for the more than 100,000 members of their pilot groups. For more than a decade, that effort has been the keystone of ALPA’s global pilot strategy. Now, the wind has shifted. The IFALPA meeting participants are anxious to learn what we are doing to improve the financial condition of our airlines so that we are not leading a race to the lowest common denominator.

I told the delegates that during this current airline financial microburst, U.S. and Canadian pilots and other airline employees are holding the line wherever possible. And when an airline is forthcoming about the need for financial assistance and can demonstrate a business plan that makes sense, we are helping carrier managements to reduce so-called "labor costs." I reminded the pilot union representatives that airline workers have not caused the financial, operational, revenue, and capacity problems U.S. and Canadian airlines face. But as usual, we are stepping forward to help resolve those problems. To help save their carriers, thousands of U.S. and Canadian airline employees have lost their jobs—and perhaps their careers—or have negotiated significant pay, pension, and benefit reductions and work rule changes that we have obtained through years of difficult collective bargaining.

We have always firmly believed that survival over the long run is the way to run an airline. At the same time, however, we need reassurance from airline managements that they are working for the long-term survival of their airlines—this is not always the case. In too many historical instances, airline officials have taken their golden parachutes and gleefully jumped while their carriers and their employees’ careers and retirement savings crashed and burned. In too many instances, airline executives have scratched and clawed their way to the public trough for corporate welfare checks, corporate and personal tax relief, or bankruptcy protection while they have filled their own pockets with bonuses, stock options, skyrocketing salaries, and other compensation perks.

ALPA is not serving the best interests of its members, the airline industry, or the traveling public if it negotiates concessions or seeks other cost-saving measures, such as ticket tax reductions, while our airline managements and governments try to weaken collective bar-gaining, place stumbling blocks in our path to one level of security, or search for ways to increase profits by reducing safety margins. I am appalled that some news media pundits, airline industry experts, government officials, and even airline officials can advocate a melt-down of the airline industry, calling it progress—a normal evolutionary process that will thin out the weak and sick and strengthen the survivors. Such economic Darwinism was the premise of 19th-century robber barons who gave capitalists a bad name.

ALPA’s message to our brothers and sisters in IFALPA-represented pilot groups, to members of Congress and Parliament, to Administration and other government officials, to the news media, to aviation financial analysts and bankers, and to airline managements is clear: If airlines throughout the world are to survive this downturn cycle—and I certainly cannot promise that all current airlines will survive—all segments of the global industry must cooperate, communicate, and shoulder their fair share of the burden. These segments include, but are not limited to, employees, managements, passengers, shippers, governments, manufacturers, suppliers, stockholders, capitalists, financial institutions, and ancillary industries that provide supplies, services, materials, information, or anything else to these previously listed categories. We are all stakeholders. Our careers, our personal financial stability, our health, our safety, and the quality of life we require now and in the future rise and fall on the stability of the global airline industry.

s/ Duane E. Woerth