ALPA, Other Unions March on Washington

Nearly 200 line pilots, national and MEC officers, ALPA staff, and family members gathered in Washington, D.C., on December 8, to give voice to the growing exasperation that many airline pilots feel as they see their contracts violated, their retirement benefits eroded, and their companies mismanaged into bankruptcy. The group took its message directly to President Bush, demonstrating in front of the White House with about 4,000 other union members.

The demonstration was part of a national campaign organized by the AFL-CIO to bring attention to the plight of many American workers whose rights in the workplace have been steadily diminished in recent years. The weeklong campaign coincided with International Human Rights Week, and was marked by similar pro-labor events in Boston, Chicago, Denver, and dozens of other cities.

Labor groups used the opportunity to urge President Bush and members of Congress to pass the “Employee Free Choice Act,” introduced in April 2005 in the Senate as S. 842 and in the House as H.R. 1696 by a bipartisan coalition. The legislation would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of employees authorized union representation. The proposal would also provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes, and approve stronger penalties for employers that violate the law when their workers seek to form a union.

“Organized labor is under attack,” ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, told the gathered crowd. “There has never been a more important time for us to stand together with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement and demand that our rights be protected.”

Currently, only 13 percent of American workers are union members -- a sharp decline from 50 years ago when approximately 35 percent of all U.S. workers carried a union card. Today, many state and federal labor laws favor employers, making it difficult for workers to organize.

Representatives from the various labor groups, including Capt. Woerth, tried to deliver a petition addressed to President Bush, urging him to protect the rights of American workers and support the “Employee Free Choice Act.” But the White House refused to accept the petition, and the delegation was turned away.

“When ALPA’s founders first came together to form this Association back in 1931, they had to meet secretly and hide their identities for fear of reprisal,” said Capt. Woerth. “They knew that, because of their activities, they risked harassment by management and the likelihood of losing their jobs. But they accepted the risks because they knew they had to have a union, and many of them paid the price.

“Seventy-five years later, we’re seeing managements, including in our industry, use many of those same tactics -- a situation fostered by an obvious lack of regard for the rights of workers by our government, as evidenced here today. If we have any hope of preserving those rights, we must have the courage to stand together with our brothers and sisters and fight to protect them.”