Systemwide Solidarity: Walking the Spirit Picket Line

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June 11, 2010 - Mere hours before the clock struck midnight – before the NMB requested to delay the strike deadline for 2 hours – hundreds participated in systemwide informational picketing, a pure demonstration of unwavering support of Spirit pilots’ desire to negotiate a fair contract – or strike.

In Ft. Lauderdale more than 200 joined Spirit pilots, illustrating that solidarity is more than just a word to union pilots – it is a way of life. The large crowd gathered at 10:30 PM – the start of all four picketing events in Atlantic City, Detroit, New York, and Ft. Lauderdale – and marched in front of the airport access in what seemed like an endless picket line that snaked into the night sky. The hope is not to strike, but that this last stand will take the Spirit pilots to the final step of reaching a contract.

And the pilots might be close. Shortly after midnight, the Spirit MEC alerted their members to the delayed strike deadline and the ongoing negotiations taking place in Washington, D.C., under the watchful eye of the National Mediation Board.

“So there is no misunderstanding, the company’s top officers are at the table this morning. They are here because of the overwhelming support you have given our union and the pressure you are placing on this company to deliver a fair and equitable contract to each of us,” the MEC wrote.

In Detroit, picketers rallied to support Spirit pilots and the airline profession. As the minutes ticked away at DTW, ALPA Vice-President Bill Couette told pilots and their families that their only task was to support each other and stay together, because ALPA’s substantial resources, airline network and political clout would take care of the rest. “Tonight’s the night. This is what you voted for, this is what you waited for,” he told the crowd.

The Detroit pilots, joined by colleagues from the AFA, United, Delta, Air Wisconsin, Compass, Pinnacle, ASA, Comair, Eagle and Southwest, marched on a muggy, moonless summer night at Metro Airport’s North Terminal minutes away from earning the hardest achievement to get at ALPA: the coveted “Battle Star” only awarded to those who have participated in a strike.

The chance to join eight decades of Battle Star recipients attracted pilots like SPA Capt. Chris Greenhouse, who drove more than 260 miles from Cincinnati to Detroit to join his colleagues. “I wouldn’t have missed it – this is one merit badge I don’t have yet,” Greenhouse said.

As midnight approached, cameras from three of Detroit’s four TV stations taped 70 pilots and flight attendants who took turns marching in the “Dog Pen,” made a little more spacious from the previous day’s picketing thanks to negotiations with DTW airport security. With “On Strike” signs waiting nearby, Spirit DTW F/O Rep Carlos Cueto said the Detroit group was ready to win the contract they’ve spent more than four years fighting for. “It’s been a hard four years, a painful four years. But we have earned it. We are better than this,” Cueto declared.

Atlantic City and LaGuardia rounded out the picketing events with both locations drawing more than 30 pilots and supporters as well as much local media attention. At LaGuardia, pilots from Spirit were joined by crewmembers from American Eagle, ASA, Colgan, Comair, Continental, ExpressJet, Piedmont, and American. And in Atlantic City, three Spirit flights landed while the picketing event took place. As each plane shut down and the crew left the airport, every arriving pilot and flight attendant joined those already walking the picket line.

Many continued to march past the midnight hour awaiting the 2 AM decision. A unified resolved growing deeper with every step.

“Our message hasn’t changed,” said Spirit Council 18 Chairman Capt. David Morlando. “Management may ask for a couple of extra hours to work out a deal but if they can’t offer us a fair contract, all of us will walk.”

Stay tuned.