Alaska Pilots
Alaska pilots picket Alaska Airlines Investors Day in New York City. Photo: Corey Kuhn

For more than a decade, the contract of Alaska Airlines pilots lagged well behind those of their peers at comparable airlines in several critical areas: scheduling, job security, compensation, and quality of life. As these areas remained unaddressed following the 2017 merger of Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, the pilots increased their focus on gaining improvements.

Contract negotiations began in 2019 but were slowed by the COVID pandemic. The pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) leaders quickly responded to the resulting decline in air travel by preserving jobs through paid leaves and early retirements in an innovative agreement that proved to be highly successful. Negotiations, however, remained challenging as management refused to meaningfully address pilot concerns at the table.

In fall 2021, the MEC launched one of the most extensive strategic communications and engagement campaigns in ALPA history, which included reaching out to Alaska Airlines passengers, company stakeholders, the state legislature, media outlets, and financial analysts to raise awareness about how the deficiencies in the contract were negatively impacting pilots’ lives and career expectations. The campaign leveraged the news media and traditional negotiating tactics, including informational picketing at various company events around the country, with pilots showing up at the company’s annual Investors Day and executive speaking events in New York City.

The pilots also effectively used online digital advertising campaigns to update and achieve support from passengers and other stakeholders. Ultimately, these efforts reached millions of individuals and effectively made clear that the pilot group would have a presence everywhere and anywhere that mattered to the carrier—and would continue to do so until management began making meaningful progress at the table.

Perhaps the most pivotal event the pilots organized was a simultaneous picket on April 1, 2022, at every Alaska Airlines base, followed by a highly successful strike authorization ballot, with 96 percent of eligible pilots participating and 99 percent voting in favor of a strike, should it be necessary. The picket was the largest of its kind in ALPA history, with more than 1,500 off-duty pilots, including those from other airlines and employees from other work groups, coming out to stand shoulder to shoulder in unity to demand that management recognize the crucial role Alaska pilots play in the airline’s success.

By late summer, the pilots’ efforts helped pressure management to bargain constructively and work toward solutions. The result was a tentative agreement with significant improvements to work-life balance, protection for pilots’ careers through durable scope language, significant pilot control over scheduling processes, and 15–23 percent pay increases over the former agreement.

The key to the pilots’ success was twofold: strong advocacy of the MEC for its members’ goals and fierce unity among the pilots. Throughout negotiations, MEC leaders consistently polled the pilot group to ensure that they understood and were fighting to achieve their pilots’ priorities. The MEC was firmly committed to transparency in communications, and efforts included regular podcasts, airport coffee sits, e-mails, social media outreach, and various unity events that created many opportunities for pilots to engage MEC leaders face-to-face.

In the end, the hard work and dedication of every Alaska pilot and pilot volunteer had an impact on successfully negotiating a new contract. On October 17, the pilots overwhelmingly voted in favor of the tentative agreement, with 96 percent of eligible pilots casting ballots and more than 82 percent of pilots voting in favor of the new agreement. The pilots are now focused on the successful implementation of their new contract.