A Voice in Their Future

By Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA President

When the first airline pilots took to the skies, they understood that they were ushering in a completely new age—one of discovery, economic growth, and connectedness.

The exhilaration of leaving the earth must have captured these intrepid pilots’ hearts—and the prospect of giving wings to a new spirit of enterprise for all of humankind must have made their imaginations soar. They must have understood how flight could foster the democratization of information and dissemination of ideas and help give ordinary people a voice to influence their future.

The trade union movement came into being for that very reason: to give workers a voice. Even as each of us recognizes the importance of accumulating capital and making profits, we understand that both management and labor must have clarity in how they work, exercise their rights, and resolve disputes. Labor must also have a seat at the table when corporate and operational decisions are made.

As union members, ALPA pilots know from nine decades of experience that workers’ individual actions are crucial—and so is our collective action. In fact, unions allow us to do both—and our success depends on it. By joining together, union workers can achieve greater agency, speak with a louder voice, and build a stronger firewall to protect ourselves from exploitation.

Examples of this fundamental truth abound, but few examples are more telling than ALPA’s work during the pandemic. The three payroll support program bills in the United States became the most sweeping and significant prolabor legislative measures in decades—and ALPA pilots made it happen. We also looked to the contracts and legal agreements that lie at the heart of capitalism as proven tools that protect both labor and management in good times and bad. With the support of our Collective Bargaining Committee and Fee-for-Departure Committee, our union negotiated a historic number of agreements that protect the health, rights, and careers of our members.

While 2020 was about survivability for our airlines and our pilots, 2021 has been about getting to recovery as quickly and safely as possible. Our union’s pilots sacrificed to help stabilize our companies during the pandemic. Now, ALPA pilot groups are returning to the negotiating table and the pattern bargaining that embodies a shared mental model of success that moves all airline pilots forward.

Despite the strain of the pandemic, our union hasn’t allowed it to distract us from preserving the fundamental safety and security of our industry and the assistance we provide to our members or preparing our union for the future.

As we marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, for example, we’ve continued our fight to protect the flight deck on passenger and cargo airliners. We’ve also supported the continued implementation of Canadian flight- and duty-time rules and collaborated with government and industry to ensure that new and expanding users share the airspace safely. In addition, we’ve offered training to the rising generation of our union’s leaders of a caliber found nowhere else in the industry and provided them with the resources to succeed.

Every worker has a gut-level understanding of why ALPA’s founding members started down the path of unionism 90 years ago. They desperately needed to gain a voice in their future. Nine decades later, we know that unionism plays a crucial role in creating fulfilling pilot careers with pay, benefits, retirement, and job security commensurate with the contributions we make and the responsibilities that we hold. We also know that only a collectively bargained working agreement can create the proactive, risk-based safety culture that contributes so clearly to a safe workplace and industry. We understand, too, that these elements are also integral to ensuring a strong piloting profession, a robust pipeline of new aviators, and a diverse and inclusive aviation workforce.

For the first airline pilots, the act of flying passengers and goods from one point to another was transformational enough. But ALPA’s earliest members surely also knew how their work would move humankind forward.

Airline pilots are no less influential today as our nations stand on the cusp of a cautious but hopeful recovery and our industry moves toward the strong possibility of a return to prosperity. And we know how it was made possible—by the pilots of ALPA.