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Airline Pilots May Be Next in the Corporate War on Unions

U.S. commercial pilots are one of the few remaining strongholds of America’s diminished labor movement, but Flexjet LLC is trying to upend that conventional wisdom. Anti-union advocates are watching as a battle between the Teamsters and the jet-leasing company plays out, with one non-profit group representing Flexjet employees who are pushing to get the union out. ( More...

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bruce hall 11
As a former CFO of two Part 121 national airlines, one unionized and one not, I may have a different perspective than some contributors to this article.
First, there is no question in my mind that a unionized airline is safer. A mechanic should be able to refuse a sign off on equipment without fear of reprisal as should a pilot when refusing to fly what he or she perceives is an unsafe situation. I think the track record of our legacy airlines in the U.S. attests to this statement.
Secondly, a union makes for a single negotiation covering hundreds or thousands of employees doing identical work. In other words, it is an efficient management tool if all parties are reasonable. I had many negotiations with ALPA in my career and I found their people to be educated, pragmatic and reasonable.
We all know there are major cultural differences between carriers when it comes to management. Not all carriers need a union but most do and the truly amazing safety record in this country says that we are doing something right.
Mike Hamner 10
The argument that the writer makes is that somehow airline pilots, we're talking about FAR PART 121 scheduled air carrier pilots, are going to ditch their union because some FAR PART 135 guys can't make up their mind? Sorry but just not so. Airline pilots have fairly stressful careers and you don't need to be involved in an incident/accident to feel it every time you go to work. The compensation takes that into consideration. De-certify? Nope. Won't happen.
Peter Steitz 7
As a union member--ALPA--I had a love/hate attitude. Contract negotiations were painful. But looking back, I can say that the union was necessary and ultimately beneficial. We had many committees that worked long hours without pay in order to get the company to listen and negotiate. We also negotiated better hotels, block or better for pay with line guarantee even if the flight cancelled, improved health insurance, just to name a few. Like Bruce Hall said, it gave the company a single partner across the table in negotiations where all the pilots did the exact same job and were paid the exact same wage based on rank and seniority.

Safety comes first and the union backed the pilots in every case. I know from experience. I was the ALPA Air Safety Chair at my company. The union did a great job in protecting the pilots from action by the company.

Stop and think about this-----using ALPA as the example, a pilot's union has one of the highest paid professional unions in the labor force. Most pilots have a 4 year degree and logged thousands of hours just to get into the right seat at a major. A Captain at a major makes a good 6 figures. Many regional Captains also make 6 figure income. There's no way the unions will be discarded.
John Sukovich 8
In my MBA Labor Law course some years back, our prof (a well-experienced arbitrator) said "Unions never show up unless they're necessary." Later, I saw it first hand here in SC, a right to work/employment at will state. A truck manufacturer set up a plant here to avoid the UAW. Because of management policies and practices, 2 years later the plant voted to unionize with the UAW.
glang3 2
Either way, I think one problem is that if you want a professional flying job, most likely the company you are interested in has a pilot pool represented by some sort of union. I have no real statistics to say that that is either good or bad. I think it depends on the company-union relationship. But, if you are against that sort of organization and representation morally, you just have to swallow your pride, suck it up and accept that fact. It is just the reality of the industry. Like I said, I have no statistics that tell me whether a company fares better with or without representation. It is interesting, however, that this industry is really one of the only remaining hold-outs that has wide-spread union representation.
Stefan Sobol 2
One downside to unions particularly in the airline industry is that it locks people into jobs via the all important seniority number. If a pilot with 30 years experience wants to leave airline A for airline B, the union requires them to start at the bottom of the payscale again with all the "privileges" of having a low seniority number. A 747 captain at airline A cannot laterally move to 747 captain at airline B (in the US) because he finds that the working conditions at airline B are better.
Actually that’s not entirely true. It’s the co,panty that decides seniority when there is no union. I have worked both ways at non union airlines, some respect date of hire seniority, others hire directly into whichever seat they choose. The other aspect of the discussion that I haven’t seen yet is with a non union airline, even one that does not hire into the left seat, politics (who you know) can play a pivotal roll in when an upgrade is offered, that is to say out of seniority order. Of course the opposite argument can be made that the more skilled pilot gets the upgrade opportunity first, but that’s not the real world in my experience...
Peter Steitz 1
Very true Stefan Sobol. This is one area I will have to agree. The seniority number is more important than anything unless you are already very senior. In this case, you don't want another pilot to come in above you. It works both ways. Seniority works at the domicile level as well as the company level. You could easily have a senior pilot bid your domicile and bump you down. Company wide, seniority decides how fast you can upgrade. Bids open and the most senior pilot gets first choice and on down the line. At the majors, there are so many other choices and even a junior pilot might get what he/she wants.
Richard Loven 1
It should be the Pilots choice. Not Government mandated. If the majority want it fine. If not that is fine too. If everything is completely organized no one would ever get a job unless they play union politics. If everything is completely company, you would still have sweatshops. A lot of the time big union and big company sit in the same pew together. What we have now is a good balance.
RECOR10 -9
If the pilots do not like the wages with out the unions, simply to not take the job. There, solved.
btweston 11
Wow. If the world were as simple as you we’d all be on easy street.

Do you think well trained and qualified people should be attracted to critical jobs like “airline pilot?”

I do. Scraping the bottom of the barrel because you think it solves a problem that you don’t understand is pretty dumb, to be honest.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

beechjunk 8
I think you fail to understand one of the primary reasons over 90 thousand (majority)professional pilots are unionized has to do with safety. Since the only way to force some companies to comply with safety and maintenance is a unified pilot group it makes the Union almost a necessity. BTW the locked cockpit door had been proposed years before by the union before it was mandated.
RECOR10 -5
So, with all due respect (and there is a ton)...with out Unions the FAA does not have the ability to properly manage and monitor the condition of the craft in the air? I have to imagine that if a craft was "not air-worthy" the person in the pointy seat would simply refuse to fly if not suicidal. Locking a cockpit would be (and is) a personal option. If there is a lock and you want to use it...have at it. If you want to leave it open and not have some 100 step procedure to take a piss...that should be the option as well. Fact is, if someone in the cockpit wants to fly into a building or mountain...they can.
beechjunk 6
NO THEY (FAA)DON'T! The fact is unless you have worked in a professional cockpit with a company who makes their money by airplanes moving I don't really think you would understand. I don't write the mx or MEL, I follow the the program. Some companies earn a union, Flight Options did now they're called Flexjet. We will see at the end of the month where the vote settles.
RECOR10 -5
Thank you for educating me. I only know what happens on my families Citation. Once in the past decade a man refused to fly (it was due to a drunken PX - my brother). I guess that I, as most of the rest of the public count on the FAA to keep things in check...that said, can a Union demand an inspection of a craft prior to a scheduled flight?
30west 8
No RECOR10, the union can't react that quickly. However, the captain can and do it with the knowledge that the airline can't fire him for writing up (demanding) an actual discrepancy which can either be fixed and signed off, MEL'd or taken out of service.
That is it in a nutshell.
RECOR10 -4
Ahhhhhh,,,,now I see, No fear of retribution...makes sense.
billocnl 5
The people who benefit the most from airline unions the most are the flying public. Pilots, mechanics, flight attendants and dispatchers are not forced into making unsafe decisions, therefore the flying public remains safer.
30west 2
Well said! I wish I would have thought of it.
linbb 5
Very much agree but then the fence riders who opt out of the unions are the ones I hate rank and file take wages and benefits to the table and every one benefits. But those who choose to opt out of unions do also not fare.
Alice Perry 4
Your error is in thinking that professional unions and others are only interested is pay. Safety issues and the responsibility to bring them up without fear of reprisals is equally important. Teachers ask for class size, teaching materuals as well as essentials such as books.
ken young 0
There is a fine line here.
Generally unions are in disfavor. Unpopular. That is a view held not only by business, but by the general public as well.
Now, commercial pilots are under the stresses of tight time schedules. Maintenance crews as well.
In my world the PIC should have absolute authority over their Craft. Such is not the case. Carriers often interfere with the authority the PIC should have. Carriers are in the business of turning a profit for the investors. Passenger comfort and customer service are secondary.
That's where representation by a labor collective can be useful.
The problem with unions is there is no balance. No balance between the interests of the business and the employees. And left out, is the consumer.
Unions would be looked at in a brighter light if union management would stop the "us vs them" mentality
Peter Steitz 2
Yes, Ken Young. There is a fine line between safety and profit. I have been involved as Air Safety Chair for ALPA t my airline. My union---ALPA stood behind me everytime.

The Captain has COMPLETE AUTHORITY over the conduct of the flight. Sometimes the company just will not acknowledge this.

However, the Captain needs to know what ground he/she is standing on. You can't refuse an aircraft that has been inspected and found airworthy according to company standards. You can't refuse to fly as long as weather en route and destination are within approved limits even if you feel uncomfortable. Here is where you talk to dispatch and work out a plan. It works if pilots and company work together. Look who signs your paycheck.
Hopefully, NO unions very soon!


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