Capt. John Prater’s Remarks
105th Regular Executive Board Meeting
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Good morning, and welcome to the 105th Regular Executive Board meeting of the Air Line Pilots Association, International. Before we begin, I want to give special recognition to the AirTran pilot group, as this is their first official Executive Board meeting.
From our first meeting with the National Pilots Association in December 2008 to our last Executive Board meeting in April, where we welcomed our newest brothers and sisters, it took just four short months to hammer out a merger agreement.
That may very well be the fastest sealed deal in ALPA history. Please, join me in welcoming the leaders of the AirTran pilots to the Executive Board.
Fellow leaders, it should come as no surprise to you that we’ll be focusing our discussions at this meeting on ALPA’s strategic plan. I want to start by saying that the decisions you make here, over these next two days, will determine the course that we take as a union on several major priorities, which will shape our profession far into the future.
Now, I’ve been talking about the importance of our union’s strategic plan for over a year, starting well before the 2008 Board of Directors meeting. First, I talked about the process. Then, I talked about the decisions we made as ALPA leaders at the BOD meeting and how we should share them with each and every member.
In April, I talked about the many successes we’ve seen by setting clear priorities and reaching our benchmarks together, with the support of our members. Today, I’m going to show you how this chain of events fits into our mission statement, the very one the ALPA Board of Directors adopted in 1992.
Because it’s important that we debrief every initiative, action, and goal when this Board meets to ensure that we are on track. Our priorities get us one step closer to our goal, but our goal must support our overall purpose and mission. Getting back to basics reminds us all, why we are here.
It reminds us of why we chose to serve our pilots, and serve our profession. It reminds us of our dedication to living up to our Code of Ethics—the standard that truly defines the difference between a “profession” and “just another job.”
There are six parts to our mission, each identifying a key role of this union and the airline pilots we represent.
The first line reads: The mission of the Air Line Pilots Association is to promote and champion all aspects of aviation safety throughout all segments of the aviation community. This year, perhaps more than in years past, ALPA has provided the voice for the profession on many aviation safety fronts.
We shared our members’ stories about how airlines are requiring pilots to work longer days and more of them each month. About how fleet or frequent base changes due to corporate decisions are forcing pilots to choose between commuting and possibly taking another pay cut to train on new equipment or, worse yet, leaving this profession altogether.
During the NTSB’s hearing on the tragic accident in Buffalo, we pointed to the fact that many pilots are often scheduled without adequate rest, exposed to abusive sick leave or attendance policies, and are not receiving adequate training for their levels of experience.
We continued driving home this point during several hearings on the Hill and the FAA’s Call to Action road shows on airline safety, pilot professionalism, and training held throughout the country.
ALPA set the tone during these limelight events, drawing attention to the state of the industry by showing the public, the industry, and the government why everyone deserves highly trained, well-rested, fairly compensated pilots at the controls and in command. This series of events also launched an opportunity for ALPA to lead the airline industry into a new age—a new age of federal aviation regulations for flight- and duty-time rules.
All of us recognize that the changes to over 50
years of stale regulations will be monumental and will substantially affect the
rules by which each of us and our members are scheduled and fly line trips.
ALPA has been fighting for over two decades to reform these rules. Those decades of attempts finally culminated in June of this year when FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt appointed members of labor, industry, and government to the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee, tasked with completing a comprehensive flight- and duty-time rule.
During the past two months, seven ALPA pilots who fly for cargo, international, domestic, and fee for departure airlines played a critical role in the ARC. The ARC completed its work on September 1 with a group agreement to not release any information concerning recommendations to the FAA so that the agency could begin crafting a NPRM.
ALPA honored the information blackout, although other ARC participants chose to ignore it. I won’t get into those details here. I will say that I am confident that this time we will get it done. And I can assure you that ALPA’s recommendations are based on the operational experience of thousands of ALPA line pilots coupled with extensive FTDT Committee work and scientific study.
They also incorporate ICAO and IFALPA
guidelines, which will be implemented by ICAO in mid-November. Capt. Don Wykoff
(Delta), who co-chaired the ARC, will present an ARC update in plenary.
Those interested in this topic can request to be reassigned to Committee 4’s discussion, which will further explore this strategic plan priority.
The second phrase of our mission reads: to represent, in both specific and general respects, the collective interests of all pilots in commercial aviation.
During the last round of airline bankruptcies, ALPA represented its pilots in bankruptcy court and succeeded in obtaining value for our pilots to try to compensate them—at least in part for the major cuts in pay, working conditions, and benefits that they had suffered.
Pilots at United, Delta, and Northwest received the proceeds of notes or claim sales or new forms of retirement plans that amounted to quite significant payments. Issues over how to allocate this money were difficult to resolve by the MEC’s and caused controversy.
Union members who did not get their way through the democratic union processes have sued ALPA to get a bigger share.
Several of these lawsuits are ongoing. In several others, one at Delta and two at United, ALPA successfully had the lawsuits dismissed on summary judgment. But in one case, the Mansfield case involving the allocation of notes at United, the judge denied ALPA’s motion for summary judgment, setting the stage for a jury trial this November.
ALPA and the plaintiffs engaged in court-ordered mediation that has resulted in a tentative settlement in that case and that settlement will be the subject of a confidential briefing in closed session this afternoon.
This union’s Organizing Task Force in coordination with the Executive Council has used ALPA’s resources to support organizing campaigns for the pilots of two more airlines for the ALPA family. ALPA has filed an application with the National Mediation Board for a representation election on behalf of the flight crew members of North American Airlines and Air Transport International.
Both elections will conclude by year’s end. When you see these pilots flying the line, please encourage them to vote in their election. You never know when one simple conversation among fellow pilots and union leaders will make the difference
The third phrase of our mission reads: to assist in collective bargaining activities on behalf of all pilots represented by the Association. Let me read that last part again: on behalf of all pilots represented by ALPA. This especially reminds me of the progress we’ve made in the strategic plan’s ultimate goal: to build unity within our ranks.
We’ve seen many examples over this past year of pilots taking collective action across pilot group lines, supporting each other at rallies and informational picketing events, even refusing to bargain if all pilot groups of a parent company are not at the table.
Bringing together the ALPA Joint Standing Councils for United and United Express ALPA carriers, for Delta and Delta Connection ALPA carriers, for Continental and ExpressJet, and for ALPA carriers in the US Airways system, has set a standard of solidarity and unity between pilot groups that no other pilot union can provide.
In May, Alaska pilots took us one step closer by approving a new 4-year contract that includes pay increases of nearly 12 percent for captains and up to 27 percent for first officers. It also preserves or improves important work rules, and gives pilots new options for protecting retirement benefits and enhancing retirement security.
In June, pilots at Island Air and Kelowna Flightcraft followed in step with new contracts that also included better pay and work rules. And while our Pinnacle members rejected a tentative agreement that provided gains, our bargaining campaign and SPC efforts will soon recommence.
You have all heard that good teams make their own luck. So in spite of the worst economy since the 1930s, this union will continue to make positive gains in this bargaining cycle. 17 of our 36 pilot groups find themselves in negotiations at one stage or another. The NMB is involved with 7 of our 17 groups through mediation, and of those 7, several have moved to the next stage with the NMB.
In fact, last week, on behalf of our Spirit pilots—after spending more than 3 years in negotiations—I sent the NMB yet another proffer request when their management continued their demands for a concessionary agreement that requires substantial sacrifices from our Spirit pilots. Yesterday, on behalf of our Hawaiian pilots I filed a request for a proffer with the NMB, citing a bankruptcy-era contract laden with concessions that is more than two year past its amendable date.
ALPA’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee have supported these groups with the strength of your 53,000 pilots, establishing headquarters and concocting plans for success.
These demonstrations of ALPA leadership and solidarity, in the face of the worst airline economics since the Great Depression and pilot furloughs across so many airlines, are the proof that we will stick together even as external forces try to divide us.
Our unity speaks volumes; gone is the day when recalcitrant managements whipsaw the pilots of this union. We will stand shoulder to shoulder and ensure that every member pilot group, no matter how large or how small, gets the contract all of our pilots deserve.
This afternoon we will have the privilege of hearing directly from all of the NMB members about how they see the role of the Board in bargaining under the Railway Labor Act over the next few years.
After those presentations, you will receive a briefing in closed session, in plenary, from Capt. Rice and a group of staff and advisors who have conducted a review into the positive and negative effects of the RLA on the pilots we represent.
The members of this panel will not only brief you on their work, they will want to hear your views on these issues.
We’re sharing the stranger than fiction but true stories of pilot pushing, poor pay, depletion and outsourcing of jobs—all the harsh realities of flying the line today—and people are interested—the media, Congress, and government agencies. Which brings me now to the fourth part of the mission statement: to promote the health and welfare of the members of the Association before all governmental agencies.
We’re continuing our work with the Transportation Security Administration to push CrewPASS from ALPA concept to reality. During the Air Safety Forum, we released a joint statement with the agency announcing standards for the new program, which paved the way for nationwide implementation.
You can mark that one down in the “win” column for ALPA. But we’re not ready to declare “mission accomplished” on this initiative just yet. Given the state of today’s airline economies, it won’t surprise you to learn that our biggest challenge now is getting the implementation done as efficiently as possible.
ARINC, the sole company approved to install CrewPASS, has marketed the system to a number of airlines, but none have yet agreed to pay for it at $120 per pilot per year. In light of this situation, I have reached out to the CEOs of United and Continental Airlines to explain this union’s initiative. I have asked for their commitment to work with ALPA to implement this program.
I have also tasked ALPA’s National Security Committee and staff with exploring the possibility of assisting all of our airlines in developing CrewPASS programs in-house, similar to what we did with the CASS program.
We believe that the airlines may be able to implement CrewPASS on their own at significantly less cost than using a vendor for this service. The ALPA National Security Committee will report its findings to me within 30 days. The bottom line is that we’re continuing to pursue every avenue, and we will not let money become an insurmountable hurdle for making CrewPASS a reality for our members.
Now, consider the aggressive campaign ALPA launched to protect our pilots’ jobs in international airline alliances. I personally briefed the secretaries of labor and transportation, and their senior staff, on what we are doing to save our pilots’ jobs.
We’re asking the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice to ensure that our carriers “play to get paid,” instead of just sitting on the sidelines playing “travel agent” for their foreign partners. Now I won’t tell you that it’s been easy, but with strong and direct coordination between the National Officers and Government Affairs with our affected MECs, we have a pointed and concerted effort to push our government to provide for job protections for our members.
We’re not stopping at government agencies, however. ALPA recently enlisted the support of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department in our battle to protect our members’ flying. With the TTD’s 32 unions now joining our effort, we will collectively pursue all appropriate actions to create the standard job protections that U.S. airline workers have earned and so rightly deserve.
Rest assured, this union will not stand idly by and watch these deals erase our flying from the international arena. When I spoke with the Canada Board last month, I emphasized the importance of working together to advance international legislation for the betterment of pilots worldwide.
As the airline industry becomes more global, and while capital, management, and some elected government officials push for changes in ownership and cabotage laws in both the United States and Canada, we could easily find pilots fighting pilots across company lines instead of supporting each other even though our companies are market competitors.
That leaves us wide open to being whipsawed, if we allow it. We have far too much experience with our pilots being recycled because of holding companies. I need to only point to what’s happening to our pilots at Midwest as the most recent egregious example.
Here’s the situation: Republic Holdings Inc. controls seven Part 121 airlines conducting fee-for-departure flying for the five legacy airlines of American, Continental, Delta, US Airways, and United.
They fly the branded operations of Midwest and Frontier, using four separate pilot seniority lists represented by four different pilot unions: ALPA (which, by the way, brings the best contract to the table), the Teamsters (representing Chautauqua, Shuttle America, and Republic pilots), an independent union (FAPA, representing Frontier pilots), and the United Transport Union (who are newly representing Lynx pilots).
Exactly one week from today, Midwest pilots will no longer fly any Midwest aircraft.
But this doesn’t mean that ALPA’s not still fighting for our members, the Midwest pilots. The Midwest MEC and Merger Committee remain committed to the goal of fairly and equitably integrating all of their pilots onto the premerger seniority lists. We will not retreat. We will fight to protect our members’ futures and to support our fellow Midwest pilots. I ask you now to show them your support.
Finally, our union has built such credibility with the FAA and Congress that they turned to this union for help in melding professionalism into initial and recurrent pilot training. They came to us because they know that when you’re talking about ALPA pilots, you’re talking about the professional standard.
They came to us because ALPA pilots wrote our profession’s Code of Ethics back in 1956 and developed a system, in our Professional Standards Committee, to uphold these standards—the highest degree of professional conduct.
Which brings us to an item before this governing body for consideration—redefining ALPA’s structure to bring the support services for the Education, Membership, and Leadership Committees, along with the important communications support required for the Organizing Task Force, under one umbrella: the Professional Development Group.
Similar to the Pilot Assistance Committee, which oversees various issues pertaining to the health and welfare of our pilots, this national committee structure would provide harmonized services and benefits for our members and enhance our partnerships with government agencies, the industry, and academic institutions.
Since the Board of Directors meeting last fall, the chairmen of these committees have met extensively to discuss a new structure and define its role, capitalizing on the “We Are ALPA” brand to better serve our current and future members’ needs.
Greater coordination between these committees will ensure an international professional pilot curriculum that grows with the different stages of a pilot’s career, highlighting the impact this union makes at every junction to protect and to promote the profession.
Moving this strategic plan initiative forward reconfirms the fact that this union is the union for every airline pilot in North America. Membership Chairman Capt. John Sluys, with support from the SRSRC’s Capt. Dave Ryter and First Officer Larry Deist of ALPA’s Furlough Program, will present more on this concept in plenary this morning, and Committee 1 will take up this agenda item in session.
The fifth phrase of our mission statement reads: to be a strong, forceful advocate of the airline piloting profession, through all forms of media, and with the public at large.
While it is always easy for the media and others to focus on accidents and incidents and to cast jokes or aspersions following a high-profile aviation incident, I want you to know that this union worked hard to put the airline safety issues in the proper perspective.
ALPA’s pilot leaders conducted more than 40 interviews with ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and other major news media outlets.
All of these events provided our pilots with a platform to bring much-needed attention to ensure that One Level of Regulation actually becomes “One Level of Safety” across the airline industry in both policy and practice. I believe it shows how this union will go to any length to support our members and provide the traveling public with the safest airlines that we can build.
And that brings us full circle . . . yes, pilot leaders, we’ve done our fair share to advance the strategic initiatives we established together just a year ago, but we did not accomplish these milestones alone.
Having returned from the AFL-CIO convention with a renewed spirit, I can tell you that we’ve made significant strides in our own profession due to our connections with the larger labor movement. Millions, speaking with one voice, are sending loud and clear messages directly to the leaders of our two great countries.
I’ve made it a priority to connect ALPA to the AFL-CIO, and now I’m challenging you to do the same. I urge each of you to affiliate with your state, or local central AFL-CIO bodies and get involved in the issues that hit close to home.
The labor movement needs your help to build a grassroots movement for working families. You know, the ones that buy tickets in the back of our airplanes. Together, we can build a seamless, integrated operation with the capacity to carry out rapid-response mobilization on the labor movement’s key initiatives. Because we all know that our affiliation with the AFL-CIO and the TTD adds strength to our union’s ability to fill our agenda. And to our mission.
Finally, we’ve reached the sixth and final section in this union’s mission. It reads: and to be the ultimate guardian and defender of the rights and privileges of the professional pilots who are members of the Association.
One goal – to build unity within our ranks.
One purpose – to serve our members’ needs.
One mission – to be the ultimate guardian and defender of the rights and privileges of airline pilots.
One year later, we’re here to trumpet our successes and address several of the top priorities in the strategic plan that our Board of Directors developed. I’m proud to say “ALPA did that!” and you should be, too, because it took all of us to advance these objectives, and it will take all of us to put new emphasis and new vigor into the new initiatives of our plan for the next year.
If you haven’t already noticed, this Executive Board meeting agenda is jam-packed. We will follow the same format we did in the spring to help you make key decisions on flight- and duty-time policies, a professional development structure, the NMB and its role in administering the Railway Labor Act, as well as the 2010 budget for this union.
Remember, the decisions you make will determine the direction we will take together in achieving our goals, our purpose, and our mission. When you make these decisions, keep in mind that you’re putting your name and your approval on our strategic plan, which reflects not only your will, but that of the members you represent.
Know that this plan serves as the compass that guides this union, the very conscience of our industry. And it’s working—for you, for our profession, for our pilots, and for the labor movement. Together, thousands acting as one to ultimately guard and defend the rights, privileges, and safety of professional pilots: “We Are ALPA,” and we will succeed in our mission.