ALPA Pilots Conduct Systemwide Informational Picket
Urge Airline Managements to Prioritize Employees/Passengers Over Profits
By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
In a remarkable display of solidarity, more than 1,000 uniformed airline pilots walked in informational picket lines on September 1 at 13 major airports across the United States. They did so to highlight the sacrifices they and other airline workers have made to keep supply chains open; deliver necessary medical personnel, equipment, and vaccines; and ensure that their carriers continued to operate during the most challenging period in aviation history.
In advance of the busy Labor Day weekend crowds, ALPA members—along with non-ALPA pilots—stood shoulder to shoulder to urge airline managements to address operational problems and prioritize passengers and workers over profits. This spring and summer, as the COVID-19 pandemic waned and demand for air transportation soared, many airlines experienced flight disruptions due to training backlogs and other unanticipated oversights. Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed over the July 4 holiday weekend alone.
Pilots also remain concerned that their carriers—prompted by improved financial circumstances, thanks to the multibillion-dollar payroll support program—might attempt to conduct stock buybacks before the industry fully recovers. A stock buyback occurs when a carrier buys back its shares from the open market. The concern is that the airline is swapping a safe asset (cash) for a riskier one (stock). In addition, any benefits derived from this scheme would likely be short-term and wouldn’t address those in aviation who’ve sacrificed the most during this global health crisis.
“ALPA pilots delivered during the pandemic, and now it’s time for airlines to deliver for us,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president. “Some airlines squandered the opportunity to adequately plan for postpandemic flying, and the result has been unprecedented flight delays and cancellations. It’s time for management to prioritize passengers and pilots—and invest in the people who keep our country moving.”
The union’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee worked directly with the Delta, Endeavor Air, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country, and United Master Executive Councils (MECs) to coordinate this event, which received substantial news and social media coverage. Airline pilots from various carriers, on their days off, assembled the Thursday before Labor Day weekend to participate in this event.
To accommodate those unable to participate at one of the 13 locations, ALPA offered an alternative. Members could access a digital tool kit complete with a picket sign graphic and suggested language they could post on their preferred social media account.
“Delta pilots were on the front line during COVID to provide transportation to essential workers,” remarked Capt. Jason Ambrosi (Delta), his pilot group’s MEC chair. “When travel demand returned sooner than expected and management overscheduled the airline, we stepped up to fly historic levels of overtime so our customers could return to the skies. We broke overtime records again in June and July.”
Capt. Chris Kenney (JetBlue), who chairs his pilot group’s MEC, observed, “JetBlue pilots are committed to providing the flying public with safe, reliable transportation. However, this can only be accomplished when management works with the pilot group to create reasonable schedules and has sufficient staffing. To continue the postpandemic recovery, the aviation industry must rebuild trust—both with the public and with the pilots.”
The September 1 informational pickets were conducted at Boston Logan International, Chicago O’Hare International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Harry Reid International, John F. Kennedy International, Los Angeles International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Orlando International, Washington National, Salt Lake City International, San Francisco International, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports. At Chicago O’Hare, in addition to media attention, Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) joined the participating pilots to show his support for their cause.
Some ALPA members had specific reasons for participating. “Pilots are seeking recognition for their contributions to their companies’ bottom line, especially through the pandemic and recovery, in the form of improved compensation and work rules,” said Capt. Ryan Muller (Spirit), his pilot group’s MEC chair. “As we begin our negotiations with Spirit management, we’ll be seeking a market-based contract that will make Spirit Airlines a career destination for professional pilots.”
Capt. Mike Hamilton (United), his pilot group’s MEC chair, observed, “Our pilots have done incredible work throughout this difficult summer, and throughout the pandemic, meeting numerous new challenges with professionalism and a steadfast focus on safety. On this Labor Day weekend, our nationwide show of unity proves we’re not only here to improve the United pilot contract but to help improve the lives and working conditions of all pilots.”
From the sizeable turnout at this systemwide picketing event, that message was clearly delivered.