An Embraer 175LR in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo: Capt. Scott Ewing [Mesa])
In 2020, Mesa Airlines saw growth in its fleet and diversified its operations with a new cargo partnership, but also suffered financial setbacks due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to a quicker-than-expected recovery, 2021 brought the Mesa pilot group the opportunity to focus on building back stronger than ever.
“We made it through what we hope was the worst of the pandemic, and our focus now is on securing a strong future for the pilots through Section 6 negotiations,” said Capt. Chris Gill, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair.
The current pilot working agreement (PWA) became amendable on July 13, 2021, and the MEC’s Negotiating Committee began active negotiations with the company in September. The pilots are seeking a contract that addresses their biggest issues: compensation and health care.
“We need a strong contract to attract and retain the best pilots, and that has to include improvements to compensation and health-care cost sharing,” noted Capt. Tad Hetler, the MEC Negotiating Committee chair. “As a company, we can do more with more. Pilots who are supported and compensated commensurate with their skill and the value they bring to our mainline partners will allow Mesa to be competitive and enable company growth.”
The MEC and management are working to come to an agreement on an amended PWA. The Negotiating Committee has presented focused proposals to the company, seeking improvements in pay, per diem, and health care, as well as several administrative and restructuring changes to make the contract clearer and easier to understand.
“We also hope to gain quality-of-life scheduling improvements in a separate process afterward as our goal is to get money in the pockets of our pilots as soon as possible and not rush through key areas in scheduling,” Hetler said.
Mesa is consistently short staffed, struggling with recruiting new pilots, training woes, and high attrition numbers. The MEC wants to address these scheduling and quality-of-life issues for the pilot group, which includes pilot volunteers not having the necessary time available to support ALPA. The union regularly faces pushback in getting even key committee members and officers released for ALPA work. The MEC hears from many members who’d like to volunteer but don’t have the bandwidth to do so due to their heavy schedules.
“Providing our pilot volunteers and officers with the time they need to support and provide resources to our pilot group has been an ongoing struggle,” observed Gill. “With the significant growth in the industry and increased hiring at the majors, we expect even greater turnover in the coming years leading to an even greater need for a strong volunteer roster.”
The MEC recently conducted strategic planning to further solidify its goals of building a strong future for its pilots. In addition to a new contract, the MEC is working to bolster its volunteer ranks, engage its pilots, and provide more resources for its members.
The MEC’s Mentoring Committee is working on a robust new program to help new-hire pilots acclimate to the airline and the union, and the Union Central series of communications launched in 2021 provides an in-depth look at key topics that aren’t often addressed, such as where dues funds go and how the union is structured. The MEC is steadily increasing face-to-face interactions, including town halls, pilot unity-building events, and crew room visits, as well as online informational sessions with negotiators and officers to offer pilots an opportunity to ask questions and get to know their union leaders.
“Above all else, we want our pilots to know that we’re here for them to support their careers and provide the assistance they need,” said Gill. “We’ll continue to work for the betterment of Mesa pilots, promote unity during these challenging times, and facilitate solutions in the best interest of our pilot group.”