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April 27, 2012

In this Issue...

    • Contract Time is Here.  Is the MEC up to the Task?
    • DPA’s Future.  Is Contract 2012 a Referendum on Delta ALPA?
    • How are contract Negotiations Going?
    • NWA Grievance goes forward
    • The ALPAWatch Goal

    Contract Time is Here

    Delta pilots are ready for an improved contract.  Is our MEC ready?
     ALPAWatch attended the MEC 1Q2012 Meeting in ATL to get the answer to that question and the answer we found is yes.  This really did not come as a surprise because we have been watching and analyzing the union’s preparations for over a year.  We have learned from experience that the course and results of contract negotiations are largely dependent on what happens and does not happen in the months and years leading up to amending the contract.  So, we have been closely monitoring the activities of the union.  We haven’t had much to say recently because we haven’t found any substantial problems with the preparation process.  To the contrary, it has been positive, which is refreshing given the dark times we are now emerging from.

    This contract can go a long way towards continuing our positive progress.  It can also end in another tragic disaster.  ALPAWatch is determined to not let that happen.  We intend to safeguard against a disaster by spotting trouble early and telling you about it.  Right now, we are on course and have no reason for concern, but if problems do arise you will promptly hear it from us.

    In past negotiations some of the most damaging and maddening things pilots have suffered through were the result of hidden agendas, one-sided communications, dominating personalities, dishonesty and disregard of pilot input.  The end results having been a flawed at best, or at worst, a draconian Tentative Agreement crammed down the pilots throats.  So what has ALPAWatch been looking for so we don’t have a disaster, don’t squander an excellent opportunity, but instead act as the professionals we are and achieve the results we deserve?  Here are a few things we have been watching.

    • What is the makeup and the mood of the MEC?
    • Is the MEC unified or subdivided into special interest sections?
    • Information Exchange.  Are the pilots being provided sufficient and unbiased  information about the upcoming contact?
    • Is the MEC making legitimate efforts to collect qualified input data from the pilots?
    • Is the MEC likely to accurately apply pilot input rather than cherry pick the data to fit narrow agendas?
    • How did and who did the MEC elect to the Negotiating Committee?
    • What is the Strategic Planning Committee’s role in contract negotiations?

     

    These are the main areas we have been probing and watching as early indicators of trouble or success.  To date all these areas are showing positive.  For a final check, before reporting to you in this ALPAWatch Newsletter, we went to the MEC quarterly meeting in March to make sure we are still on track heading into the Section 6 early opener. We have found that one of the best ways to judge the overall consensus, attitude and mindset of the MEC is to ask similar questions to as many MEC members and Committee members as possible and then look for consistency in the answers, then combine those consistencies with what we know about the MEC in general.  As for the MEC’s makeup and mood we know this:

    Makeup and Mood of the MEC
    The current MEC is not the merged MEC produced by the Delta/NWA merger but a post merger MEC.  Through LEC elections since the merger there has been a great deal of turnover within the Delta MEC.  Although those members came from one background or the other, they were elected into the new Delta MEC.  This has helped the MEC to move past the merger and look forward. The few unresolved merger issues are not preventing this body from looking forward or working together as one.  And there is nothing like a full blown Section 6 process to bring everyone together and focus on the MEC’s most important task, fix the contract!

    Their mood is upbeat, unified, and very professional.  It is the Delta MEC’s culture to take a practical, reasonable, professional and organized approach to contract negotiations.  The Delta MEC has a reputation of setting goals that they fully expect to achieve.  They don’t believe in posturing by being overly aggressive or simply throwing things against the wall to see what will stick.  Some premerger NWA pilots might understand this distinction.  This is not to say that they are all in agreement, all the time.  That’s not going to happen.  Disagreements are handled with debate, achieving consensus, and then move on without the lingering desire for retribution.  In short, this is the most capable, organized, unified and professional MEC ALPAWatch has ever covered.  They are more than capable of getting this job done.

    Information Exchange
    ALPAWatch has always pounded away on the idea that ALPA is designed as a bottom up organization but often does not follow that doctrine.  We all realize that our LEC reps are elected by us to make the decisions because all 12,000 plus pilots cannot make every decision, so we trust our elected reps to do their best to get the pilots input and use it.  This concept is never more important than at contract time.  To their credit, the MEC has taken several steps to gather and use pilot input.  First they initiated an education and information campaign.  Every pilot received detailed history, before and after the merger, about how we got to where we are today and where we stand in the industry with respect to compensation and other important contract sections.  ALPAWatch looked at the information carefully to make sure it was factual and not biased in any way that would attempt to dumb down expectation or be indicative of some kind of hidden agenda.  We found it to be factual and unbiased, an accurate transfer of information for each pilot to interpret.

    Surveying the Pilots
    The pilots were then offered a survey opportunity.  This new contract should reflect the desires of the membership as much as possible and a survey is a critical method of determining those desires.  But a survey is only as accurate as it is designed to be so ALPAWatch carefully examined each of the questions in the survey for bias.  If there are agendas at work, those agendas would show up in how the survey was composed.  Depending on how a survey question is structured, the structure itself can dramatically sway the answers given.  Take the major topic about how much pay increase you expect in the first year of the new contract.  Here are two hypothetical methods of probing that topic that would produce very different results because of the structure of the question.

    Example 1.   In the first year of the new contract, how much pay increase would you like to have?

      • 10%
      • 20%
      • 30%
      • 40%
      • 50%
      • etc

    Example 2.   In the first year of the new contract, how much pay increase can you reasonably expect given that fuel prices may be at an all time high?

      • 10%
      • 20%
      • 30%
      • 40%
      • 50%
      • etc

    See the difference?  The survey did not ask either of these questions or any like them.  Instead the survey asked more neutral questions with follow up questions to refine the results.  We found all the questions to be delicately written so as to be as neutral as possible and yet still obtain frank and accurate data.  This is not an easy task to accomplish.  It demonstrates a desire to collect honest data.

    The survey data was then further refined and verified via telephone contact (Wilson Polling).  We asked numerous MEC members about the results of the surveys.  We were not seeking details about the data itself but rather, did the surveys produce accurate, valid, clear and usable data.  The consistent answer we got was that the quality of the survey data was excellent, there is no doubt about its validity, and the desires of the pilots are clear.  This means that statistical analysis of the data left little room for interpretation.  The results were loud and clear as to what the pilots expect from this contract.

    Honoring the Data
    The next preparation hurdle is to make sure the MEC uses pilot input do direct the Negotiating Committee.  They did and they are.  This process has taken up much of the MEC’s time.  More time was devoted to this process at the March meeting.  This was not their first discussion but rather a fine tuning discussion just before we presented our Section 6 opener to Delta.

    This process is difficult because it requires the MEC to make some decisions about priorities in negotiations.  This was a closed door session but it is not hard to read how serious the MEC was taking this opportunity to direct the Negotiating Committee just prior to the Section 6 opener.  Our impression is that the MEC had to make some tough decisions, but to the greatest extent possible the pilot survey data was used as their guide.

    The Negotiating Committee
    The current committee consists of Chairman Parri “Scrappy” Olmstead, and three members, Heiko Kallenback, Matt Coons and Dan Vician.  They were elected two years ago (ALPAWatch Newsletter March 2010) and then recently re-affirmed by the current MEC.  You can read more about them and their elections in the link above, but it is noteworthy that the committee has four members, two PM NWA, two PM Delta. They are a solid group that is more than capable of professionally negotiating this contract while following the direction given to them by the MEC.

    Strategic Planning Committee
    Delta ALPA has a standing Strategic Planning Committee.  You don’t hear much about that committee because their work is often not published and most or all of their presentations to the MEC are during closed-door sessions.  The secrecy is of course due to the nature of their work.

    Nevertheless, such secrecy raised a red flag with ALPAWatch.  Secrecy combined with the possibility of influence over contract negotiations was very concerning.  We could understand the need to be secretive so we never attempted to gain access to the committee’s work, but we did seek assurances that the committee operated in ways that would be satisfactory to the average line pilot.  We went about this in two ways.

    First, the previous MEC Administration granted us some direct contact with the committee.  We asked some questions and got a general feel for how the committee operates, its objectives, and methods.  Second, we asked LEC Reps about the committee.  How it works, who was giving who direction, were they satisfied with their work and so forth.  Our consensus is that the committee is a needed and necessary function of the MEC.  They provide broad information to the MEC, usually in the areas of the airline industry in general, oil prices, and the economy.  Their influence with respect to contract negotiations is strategic only and not tactical.  You can see public presentations of their work at http://dal.alpa.org/Committees/StrategicPlanning/tabid/1045/Default.aspx , including the most recent dated 3/8/12.  ALPAWatch is not concerned about the nature of this committee.  They provide valuable information to the MEC but do not make decisions about the contract.

    DPA’s Future.  Is Contract 2012 a Referendum on Delta ALPA?

    ALPAWatch has not weighed in on the Delta Pilots Association (DPA) debate, but for now we are prepared to say that changing unions during contract negotiations seems unlikely.  That said, C2012 becomes a referendum on ALPA’s future at Delta and therefore DPA’s as well.

    Such a referendum sets up an interesting dynamic.  The management of Delta Air Lines has the ability to decide which union will represent Delta’s pilots.  How so?  If ALPA is very successful with this contract, DPA will lose energy and probably dissolve.  If this contact goes horribly wrong, DPA has a real shot at winning a representation vote at Delta.  Of course there is a lot of gray area between very successful and horribly wrong, but Delta management could easily control one of those outcomes and somewhat the other.  Somewhere in management’s calculations about C2012, there has to be some consideration for which union they want representing their pilots in the future.

    While the pros and cons of which union, ALPA or DPA, management would rather deal with can be endlessly debated, one issue is not in debate.   Delta management, Delta ALPA and DPA are all aware of this dynamic.

     

    How are contract Negotiations Going?

    ALPAWatch does not have any special, inside, detailed information about how negotiations are going.  We do know that the union and the company are engaged in somewhat of a non-traditional effort to attempt an expedited contract.  The fact that this process is taking place in no way guarantees that it will produce a Tentative Agreement (TA) or what such a TA might look like.  We also know that attempting an expedited negotiation is essentially without risk to the pilot group.  It will either result in a TA that will or will not be passed to the pilots for a membership vote or the work accomplished will become the basis of a lengthier, traditional Section 6 process.

    We have heard many rumors about the negotiations that run the gamut from great to horrible.  None of them have had enough credibility to be worth investigation.  If you find yourself concerned about a rumor, call your elected LEC reps and ask them.  They can often comment one-on-one more than they can in print.  If you don’t get an acceptable answer or your answer does not pass the smell test, copy ALPAWatch and we will look into it.

    Right now, ALPAWatch believes the expedited contract negotiations are moving forward at a pace consistent with an expedited effort.  If negotiations revert to traditional Section 6 negotiations, we are certain the union will update all the pilots immediately.  The important issue is that we are confident that the process is working.  We will not speculate on the possible results but will continue to diligently verify that the process is working as it should.  That is ALPAWatch’s promise to you.
     
    NWA’s Duty Rigs Grievance goes Forward

    Background
    When the NWA pilots transitioned to the new Delta Merger contract, some PWA Sections were implemented immediately and some were phased in over the next year.  Pay was one of the sections immediately phased in.  However, when implementation occurred, only pay rates changed, duty rigs did not change.  The duty rigs were phased in over the next year, costing pre-merger NWA pilots considerable money.  Some estimate as much as one month’s pay each.  A grievance was filed.

    This Grievance was scheduled to be heard in May 2012.   The date just slipped to “later in the summer.”  The company requested the delay because the same company attorneys involved are working on Section 6.  When this grievance is heard it should produce a final decision.

    ALPAWatch has been following this story for years now and has several times considered a Newsletter on the subject.  We have decided to give you the whole story after the grievance is settled.  The back story on this grievance is a long twisted tail that needs to be told and we will.  Our concern about telling the story now is that we don’t think we can give you all the details without possibly affecting the outcome of the grievance.   So, for now we will leave it at that and you can expect a full accounting of events after the grievance is resolved.

     

    The ALPAWatch Goal

    Since our first ALPAWatch Newsletter 5 years ago, we have been concluding our publications with

    “Thank you again for participating in ALPAWatch.  With the participation of pilots such as you, ALPAWatch will be successful in obtaining the Union Leadership that the Pilot Group deserves, and in doing so regain our fair compensation, our quality of life, our future, and our dignity”

    This constant reminder was a shortened version of our overall strategy as outlined by our Mission Statement and Objectives.  ALPAWatch envisioned achieving its Objectives in a three step process.

    Step one; modify the union leadership’s makeup and behavior so as to become more responsive to the pilots’ desires and conduct themselves in a manner the pilots could support.  Step two; convince the pilot group to reengage and support the union leadership.  Step three; repair the disaster we have all been living with far too long.

    ALPAWatch was not created just to be a critic of the union.  We simply call them as we see them.  Our guiding principle has always been and still is to give you the truth, good, bad or indifferent.  At the time ALPAWatch started NWA ALPA desperately need an independent voice that could set the record straight and help the pilots reform the union into the organization it needed to be.  The next step was to get the pilots to back the reorganized union.  Only then, having the power to effect the changes we all needed and deserved could we reach the end goal, restore our profession.

    During this step-one reorganizing process, NWA and Delta merged.  The merger dramatically helped the process.  Both ALPA unions brought strengths and weaknesses to the new Delta MEC.  But in a dynamic process that few could have foreseen or scripted, both sides dug in and demanded certain changes to the MEC.  Those changes had the positive effect of minimizing the weaknesses and bolstering the strengths from each.  In short, the best of both has emerged.

    It is now time for step two.  The pilots, if they have not already, need to consider reengaging.  Many of you may be reluctant to reengage.  You have had too many bad experiences to offer your trust again.  But consider this.  Union leadership cannot get this job done alone.  At some point you will be put into a position that requires you to vote on C2012.  You will need to base your vote on the facts.  And who will provide those facts, the union of course.  If you have no trust in those facts, even if they are accurate, you may make a bad decision on your vote.

    What we are saying is that you need to be paying attention to union publications, especially with respect to C2012 and consider that information to be accurate.  Rest assured ALPAWatch is here; watching this process carefully and we look at any and all the information the union provides with a very critical eye.  If we find it inaccurate or we can’t verify the information, we will let you know.

    Pay close attention to union information.  Events could develop quickly.  We will let you know if we have any doubts about the process.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, we are getting closer to our goal, so once again we say…

     

    Thank you again for participating in ALPAWatch.  With the participation of pilots such as you, ALPAWatch will be successful in obtaining the Union Leadership that the Pilot Group deserves, and in doing so regain our fair compensation, our quality of life, our future, and our dignity.
    ALPAWatch.org