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May 28, 2010

In this Issue...

 

A Report on Delta ALPA MEC

First Quarter 2010 Meeting March 23rd-26th 

 

Why does ALPAWatch attend these meetings?


Attending these meetings gives us a chance to not only see union business first hand but to meet all those that influence policy, directly or indirectly.  From our experience on the NWA property, we know that meeting these leaders individually, understanding their personalities, politics and agendas as well as how they operate as a group is critical.   It is key to gaining a reliable understanding of the inner workings of DALPA and therefore being able to bring you the unbiased, firsthand account of what your union is doing and why.
Attending these meetings was the first step in developing an understanding of this new MEC, and this is a new MEC.  It is new not only because of the merger, but because the new LEC reps of ATL, DTW, and SLC from this past October elections, were seated at this meeting.  Almost a third of MEC are new members and that third represent more than half of all DAL pilots.


Kevin Jones, ALPAWatch Founder attended two days of the meetings held in MCO.  He is responsible for the content of this Newsletter and is the Editor-in-Chief of all ALPAWatch publications.  Here is his report.

Our objectives at this meeting included:

  • Meeting as many union leaders as possible.  That list includes the MEC, MEC Administration, Committee Chairpersons etc. We need to know them and they need to understand ALPAWatch.
  • Start to understand the overall culture of this MEC.
  • Look into the broad allegations that DALPA functions in a top down manner, which is contrary to the by-laws of ALPA.  This is what I would call a starting point issue.  When you start looking under the surface of one issue, many more come to light.

So what did we find?


Critics say a top down management style is counter to the structure of ALPA and works to thwart the will of the membership.  Proponents say the MEC operates like a well oiled machine.  ALPAWatch would say both are legitimate observations. 


I observed MEC meetings that did run very well.  They were organized, business like, thorough and effective.  While the meetings are in session, the Administration—lead by the MEC Chairman Lee Moak—does an excellent job of staying on schedule and yet allowing time to complete agenda items.  While in session the MEC operates very much as it should with the MEC members driving the process and the Administration acting as an accomplished facilitator.


It should be noted however that the business of the union does not stop at the end of an MEC meeting.  I think this is where the accusations of a top down style might be accurate.  The Administration is heavily involved in the day to day business of the union.  The Administration carries out the instructions of the MEC and this is where it gets down to details and decisions.  Critics have said that sometimes those details and decisions are made without sufficient input or prior knowledge of the MEC.  In the same breath, you have to say that the Administration is aware of these accusations, has acknowledged them and seems to be making changes in the way it does our business.  I spoke to several of the LEC reps that have been critical of this top down style.  They agreed that it may be getting better but instances are still occurring on regular bases.


It should also be noted that this top down style has not always been utilized within DALPA.  Some say it was more necessary and accepted in the recent past because it works better in a defensive environment, meaning during hostile events like bankruptcy and a merger.  But those events are behind us now and the time to re-embrace the intended structure of our union is now.


That structure includes the concept that the LEC reps work for the pilots and the Administration works for the LEC reps.  That is how the ALPA by-laws and DALPA policy manual state it should be.  What is not stated but equally important is the concept that the union leadership will follow the will of the pilots and by doing so garner the support of the membership, which is the real power base of the union.  If the pilots do not, cannot, or should not support the union leadership because that leadership is failing to follow the will of the membership, then the union is disconnected from its power base and its effectiveness is severely curtailed.


ALPAWatch has always stated: the leadership must acknowledge and respect the will of the membership and the membership must support a leadership that follows its will.  Most think this statement puts the most pressure on the leadership rather than the membership, but that is not necessarily true.  It was true with NWA ALPA, but not so much with DALPA.  This MEC is not divided and distracted by sub group agendas as NWA ALPA was.  This MEC is far better situated to do the job the pilots expect its union to do.  That places more pressure on you, the pilot.  ALPAWatch believes this MEC is capable of getting the job done but you are going to have to make it clear to your LEC reps what you think that job is.


Here are some firsthand observations that cause us to believe that this MEC is an effective body that can get the job done.


The merger put this MEC in a precarious situation.  Every member and the collective conscious of the group is aware of the two choices this MEC has.  The choices are:

  1. Come together as a merged MEC with one set of goals, do the work of the pilots and in doing so improve their careers
  2. Chose sides along North/South boundaries and start the fight that nobody can win

    Disclaimer.  During the meeting, not a single member made direct statements of the above, but it is very real.  It hangs heavy in the air, permeating every corner of the room.  In post meeting interviews with some of the LEC reps, they privately agreed with this assessment. 


The MEC members know that if they take the bait and start the fight it will probably never end nor will such a fight help Delta pilots.  There is an unspoken determination not to let that happen.  This is not to say they are all one happy group.  That would be naïve.  There are disagreements but they seem to get resolved without the big battles that are so tempting.  That unspoken determination seems to be carrying the day.  It drives them away from protracted arguments and back to solutions, solutions that are at the core of their purpose, and that is refreshing to see.

 
The selection process for the new Negotiation Committee was a big portion of this quarterly meeting’s agenda and an excellent example of what we are trying to convey here.  To set the stage, you have to understand that this selection process was a very big deal on several levels.

  • Positions on this committee are some of the most important within the union.
  • These positions are some of the highest profile and highly sought after within the union.
  • Appearances added to the complexity of the process.  They knew that loading the Committee with all PM Delta or PM NWA pilots would not go over well with the pilots.
  • With the need for balance in mind, they realized that there were only three positions available.  If they did not add a fourth member, the Committee would be unbalanced, i.e. 2 to 1.
  • Who would be the best qualified members?  Pilots on this Committee usually have significant prior union experience and are well known to the MEC.  But now you had excellent talent from both sides, and yet they were unknowns to half the MEC. 

This MEC wanted four total members so that two could come from pre merger Delta and two from pre merger NWA.  The MEC realized that a three member Committee (which would require unbalanced representation) might be perceived as unfair by some pilots.  But adding a fourth member would mean spending your union dues.  Many pilots don’t realize (and it is a new concept to PM NWA pilots) that full time flight pay loss for some union positions is paid for by Delta verses your union dues.  In the case of the Negotiation Committee, Delta pays for up to three pilots pay loss, a Committee Chairman plus two members.  In the end the MEC decided it was worthwhile to add a fourth member.  This was a smart move not only because a three member committee would have been unbalanced and seen as “unfair,” but because it allowed for more talent to join the committee.


The first vote was for the Negotiating Committee Chairmanship.  Parri Olmstead (PM Delta) was elected Negotiations Committee Chairman by a unanimous vote.  A unanimous vote is telling in itself but not even half the story.  Parri is not a senior Captain but a narrow body First Officer.  Furthermore, he was elected unanimously based on his qualifications and the respect of his peers rather than ALPA political connections.  This is huge.  It demonstrates an MEC that is overcoming the distractions of the merger and partisan politics. 


The rest of the Committee was elected by a process of elimination, requiring several rounds of voting to sort through a distinguished list of applicants.  The three elected members are Heiko Kallenbach (PM Delta), Matt Coons and Dan Vician (both PM NWA).  All those elected have impeccable qualifications and are highly regarded by their peers.  The MEC met all the challenges facing them by choosing four talented pilots, balancing the Committee and putting the needs of the pilot ahead of ALPA politics.


But just when it all sounds too good to be true, we must add that not all were happy with the outcome of the vote.  We did discover that some influential group had an expectation of a different selection for Chairman, perhaps based on a line-of-succession type of mentality.  ALPAWatch has a good idea where that influence came from and we are looking into it further.  Nevertheless, while it is frustrating that those kinds of ALPA politics always seem to rear their heads, the pilots can take comfort that in this case those politics did not carry the day.


Some other positive trends we have noted are:


LOA Ratification Procedures
Critics complained that the MEC was not being given enough time to review LOA’s before a vote was taken.  In the past, LOA’s were sometimes presented and voted on in the same day.  The MEC was not following the policy manual which requires a 5 day period of discussion before a vote.  The MEC is now following that policy.
Coming together
There is an active effort to stop using the terms “North and South.”  The use of those terms is discouraged and everyone is making an effort to self police themselves.
Communication
Several positive efforts are underway to improve communication.  You can now access Delta ALPA by both Facebook and Twitter.  I can hear you saying, “Who cares?”  Even if you have no personal interest or experience with Facebook and Twitter you should sign up for this access.  At last count, only about 350 out of 12000+ Delta pilots had signed up for Facebook.  If those numbers don’t go up, then the MEC could rightly discontinue their use.
There has been a grassroots effort to improve communication in general but particularly through the use of new communication technologies.  Those efforts will be set back if more pilots do not show some interest.  Most pilots are of a generation that does not use or care about Facebook or Twitter, but don’t let that lack of interest become an excuse for not going forward with bigger ideas such as webcast union meetings and other methods of better communications.  Improved communications equals better transparency, and better transparency leads to more representative leadership.
Resolution Procedures changing
Many pilots have expressed a concern, and ALPAWatch agrees, that the MEC’s policy of simply “Receiving” some resolutions is a problem.  It seems like “received” can be black hole.  It looks like this may be changing.  From the May 7th Council 44 Update…


Yesterday we briefed the Resolution Process at the C44 LEC meeting and received feedback from the members in attendance that there needs to be more detailed communications regarding what happens to a resolution once it gets to the MEC.  To some it seems like Local Executive Council resolutions disappear once they are considered at an MEC meeting.   Our March 4, 2010 LEC Meeting produced two resolutions that were considered at the MEC Meeting on March 23, 2010.  Our resolution dealing with Communication and Transparency was “Received”, as well as our resolution dealing with Pay.    C44 pilots want more information than simply “Received” for their time and effort spent participating in the process.  All LEC reps from every base recognized this and unanimously agreed to better define the way we handle resolutions.  The nomenclature and guidelines should be out by the next regular MEC Meeting.

We will stay on this one.  Member’s resolutions deserve to be dealt with in a more definitive manner.


In conclusion, keep these things in mind.  First, our apology for not getting this report to you sooner.  After attending the meeting, it took some research and reflection time to complete this report because ALPAWatch recognizes that this is a completely different MEC from NWA ALPA, which brings us a second point.


This is a new MEC.  It is not the Delta MEC, it is not the former NWA MEC, it is a new Delta MEC.  They are off to a good start and we think they have great potential to actually accomplish their Mission Statement.  This in no way means that ALPAWatch is giving this MEC a pass on anything.  “Trust but verify” works very well.  ALPAWatch has the reputation of being accurate with the facts and fair in its assessments.  While this often resulted in harsh reports about NWA ALPA, our real focus has always been about telling you like it is. 


We know this MEC has issues that need investigation.  We are hearing about them and we are looking into those issues.  At the same time we are working hard to develop a deep level of understanding about this MEC that is essential to bringing you an unbiased, informed view of your union.  So if it sounds like we are being uncharacteristically soft on this MEC, we are not.  We are just telling you what we have observed so far, good, bad or otherwise.  Giving you the straight story has always been our commitment to you, and it remains unchanged.

 

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.
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