JetBlue pilots descend on company headquarters in Long Island City, N.Y., in January 2018.
This past summer, after more than three years of negotiations, the JetBlue pilot group achieved the first collective bargaining agreement for any employee group in the history of the airline. However, this historic accomplishment doesn’t mean that the work is over for the pilots, only that their focus has shifted from collective bargaining to contract enforcement.
JetBlue pilot leaders and staff from ALPA’s Representation Department continue to meet with the company to ensure that the contract is adhered to in both word and intent. This is especially important as the airline is growing at a rapid pace with 85 Airbus A320neos and 60 Airbus A220s on order.
“Although the achievement of a binding Railway Labor Act contract represents an important milestone for this pilot group, that is only the beginning of our work on behalf of our pilots,” said Capt. Patrick Walsh, the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) chair. “A contract means very little unless the parties abide by it. It’s our responsibility to make sure that the company complies with what it agreed to and signed.”
On July 27, 2018, the pilots announced that they’d ratified the four-year deal with 74 percent voting in favor of the agreement. The ratified agreement included an implementation letter of agreement that specified certain parts of the contract would be phased in during the remainder of 2018 and in 2019. However, the vast bulk of the agreement went into immediate effect, including pay increases, improvements in retirement benefits, and enhanced working conditions.
Once the tentative agreement was reached in June 2018 and passed by the MEC, the Negotiating Committee and Communications Committee mounted an extensive education campaign to inform the pilots about the agreement and what it meant for each individual pilot and his or her family, including detailed printed material and online webinars, a continually updated “Frequently Asked Questions” section on the tentative agreement website, and multiple road shows at each of the five pilot bases.
“Our pilot group is in a significantly different position than most ALPA groups,” said Walsh. “This company has not only never had a pilot collective bargaining agreement—it’s never had any labor group agreement. Systems and protocols weren’t just improved, they had to be created.”
The fact that a first agreement was being established rather than amending an existing one helps explain why negotiations with management took more than three years. Negotiators on both sides of the table started with blank pages. Pilot negotiators looked closely at other pilot groups’ contracts to determine what worked and in some cases what didn’t. With no “legacy” language to grapple with or to tweak, the pilot negotiators were able to present comprehensive proposals that pieced together some of the strongest language from a multitude of contracts, including an industry-leading scope section.
Even as the two sides came closer to an agreement in May 2018, pilot leaders maintained pressure on the company, not just from the pilot group but also from the traveling public. Billboards, social media, and radio ads across the country continued in full force up until the day the negotiators announced that an agreement in principle had been reached. Full-page newspaper ads in every base city were ready to be launched the following week. Another informational picket that promised to rival the 700-pilot event held in January 2018 had to be pulled down at the very last minute as the two sides came to terms.
“We were always ready to go the distance,” said Walsh. “We remain vigilant. We’ll deploy all the resources at our disposal to ensure that the company fully complies with the agreement and honors the contractual rights and protections that were hard won through the commitment and unity of this pilot group.”