Unity Never Goes Out of Style

By Capt. Duane Woerth, ALPA President
Air Line Pilot, May 2004, p.5

The history of our profession and our union has mostly been about managing change. Fundamental shifts—from delivering mail to delivering passengers, from flying props to flying jets, from using manual controls to programming cockpit computers, from working under airline regulation to being buffeted by airline deregulation—have driven ALPA’s agenda and strategy.

The same is true today. The post-9/11 world is a radically different place for us, and much of my time and energy are spent dealing with issues that have come to the fore since the fall of 2001. But ALPA has always risen to the challenges of change. We have achieved that success because of the one aspect of our union that has never changed: unity.

Over the years, the consolidation of thousands of pilot voices and millions of pilot dollars has meant the difference between victory and defeat. That’s been true on the political stage of Congress and the White House, and it’s been true in every contract that we have ever negotiated. Unity remains key to our progress today—and it will remain key for many years to come as the airline industry rebounds economically and as we deal with the threats that foreign competition and security concerns pose.

Within our union today, I see strong signs of unity. Some are small, such as when a Delta pilot calls ALPA’s Communications Department to urge greater inclusion of messages from the AFL-CIO in this magazine, or when United pilot representatives ask me for packaged information on our major legislative issues that they can use in their LEC communications. Some are larger, such as when Pinnacle, Northwest, and other pilot groups turn out to support their counterparts at Mesaba, or when Allegheny and Piedmont pilots work together to form a single bargaining unit, or when Comair and Atlantic Southeast pilots urge their management to merge the two airlines.

That unity extends beyond our borders. ALPA has joined with its European counterparts—the European Cockpit Association and the European Transport Workers Federation—in an effort to persuade the United States and the European Union to make sure that airline worker concerns are adequately addressed in any U.S.-EU air services agreement. This effort is designed to keep American and European airline workers from losing opportunities on the basis of the labor standards that apply to them, and to allow you to compete for global opportunities on a level playing field.

On the other side of the equation, our adversaries have developed only one strategy that has ever worked: divide and conquer. They have used it to drive pilot groups to bid against each other, to undermine support for your pilot reps during and after negotiations, and to set pilot groups within a single network against each other in a struggle to fly certain airliners. We must remain eternally vigilant against this strategy. That’s why our union, and the entire labor movement, is renewing the push for unity. Several international unions have gone so far as to merge recently.

AFL-CIO President Sweeney has asked me to chair a group of union presidents—including those of the Teamsters, the steelworkers, and the flight attendants—to study independent unions and to develop a strategy to bring them into the House of Labor. These presidents know that, in the end, independent unions become redundant, inefficient, or even counterproductive to their own members’ interests—even when they are well-run organizations.

One of the reasons President Sweeney asked me to head this effort is because of our great success in merging with the Continental, FedEx, and Canadian pilot groups. We have a record of building unity that other AFL-CIO unions envy. By living up to our pledge to work cooperatively and exclusively with elected pilot leaders who wanted to join ALPA, we were able to complete the complex task of merging pilot unions in a very short period.

But our work among pilots is, of course, far from complete. I want to convince every pilot group in the United States and Canada to join ALPA, and I want to work cooperatively with each of them to make it happen. Imagine what we could accomplish together if that day ever came.

Meanwhile, we must continue to stand strong together in the face of change. We must work together when others would seek to divide us. We must address our challenges openly and honestly and advance our causes together. That’s an approach that never goes out of style.

s/Duane E. Woerth