February 5, 2007
Pilot Unions Fly in Formation
Their Message: ‘Group Demands Respect and Contract Returns’
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Airline pilot union officials from 40 airlines in the U.S. and Canada met recently in Washington to discuss negotiating goals and strategies as part of a focused, industrywide campaign to recoup the enormous contract cuts in pay, benefits, and work rules that management—often with bankruptcy judges’ assistance—inflicted on airline workers over the last five years.
The three-day meeting, sponsored by the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), drew the top elected officers and negotiating committee chairmen from 25 pilot groups represented by ALPA, and representatives of independent unions for pilots at Air Canada, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, AirTran, Republic, and Horizon, among others.
“No one attending the conference came out and said, ‘We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more’—they didn’t need to,” said Capt. John Prater, president of ALPA. “The pendulum is swinging back in our favor. As the industry has returned to profitability, management has rewarded itself. Pilots are demanding that their issues be addressed at the same time. Management didn’t hesitate to seek changes it said it needed during the term of a union contract, and we aren’t going to either.”
“It’s clear there is a strong, across-the-board commitment to reverse the erosion of our profession,” said Capt. Ralph Hunter, president of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents the pilots of American Airlines. “Without question, this forum will help further that aim.”
The first joint conference of pilot union leaders, held last summer, focused on broad industry and bargaining trends. This week’s conference was more narrowly focused on benefit and pay issues. These pilot groups already have enthusiastically agreed to schedule another conference this summer, hosted by the Allied Pilots Association and the Southwest Airline Pilots Association in Dallas.
"When management signals that the company is healthy by taking large bonuses and stock or option cash-outs, it's certain that the pilots will know the playing field is once again level, and at United we have moved to fix our contract now," said Capt. Mark Bathurst, chairman of the United Airlines chapter of ALPA.
Participants whose airlines feed other airlines face their own unique challenges—their flying is constantly going out for bid as managements compete against each other on the backs of pilot labor. ALPA has spent considerable resources studying this segment of the industry through its Fee For Departure Task Force, whose key findings reveal that management has used pilot salaries as their number one opportunity for lowering costs.
“We will continue to coordinate across company lines to protect our profession,” said Capt. Tom Wychor, chairman of the Mesaba Airlines chapter of ALPA. “Pilots will not be whipsawed by management pitting one group against another with promises of growth or quick upgrades in return for rock bottom wages.”
“It does not take long to realize that the only way we can stop the ‘race to the bottom’ and take back what is rightfully ours is to work together through cooperation and mutual support. Whatever harms one pilot harms the entire profession,” Prater said. “We’ve already started cooperating by joining fellow pilots from other airlines on picket lines, and our mutual support will increase.”
As part of the campaign to take back control of their profession, conference attendees were informed that ALPA has now formed a National Strike Committee to consolidate and share resources for pilots who need to prepare for the worst. Prater, who served as strike coordinator in the 1983 pilots’ strike at Continental Airlines, said that when Frank Lorenzo launched a preemptive attack on the unions at Continental Airlines by declaring bankruptcy, the pilots were unprepared for a sudden strike, which they eventually lost. “That can never happen again,” Prater emphasized.
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ALPA, Pete Janhunen, Linda Shotwell (703) 481-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org
APA, Capt. Denis Breslin (817) 302-2350 or (619) 980-8941, or Gregg Overman, (817) 302-2250 or (817) 312-3901