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October 8, 2012

In this Issue...

  • Group III LEC Elections
  • C2012, The Back Story

LEC Elections

 

LEC Elections for Group III are in the Nomination Phase. Don't forget to complete (write-in) a Nomination ballot and mail it today or take your ballot to your respective LEC meeting. Your complaints about ALPA are best addressed at this level. Cast an informed Vote!

 

The Back Story on the TA

When we learned that the MEC vote on this TA was 14 to 5, and all 5 LEC reps that voted NO were from former NWA bases, we were sure there was a story there.  We have finally finished our interviews and research about this TA.  The story that has emerged isn’t as simple as it seemed and is different from the one we expected.

The process was expedited and the results came suddenly but not without controversy.  After the TA was published the analysis began en masse.  The two aspects of the controversy were intertwined, should the TA pass or fail. Secondly, was the entire TA process in accordance with the Policy Manual and binding resolutions.

For the purpose of analysis, ALPAWatch realized that these two subjects needed to be de-tangled and handled separately.  Given the fact that the TA passed, this Newsletter is solely about how it came to be.

When ALPAWatch looked into the process that produced this TA, we found controversy swirling around what happened in the very late stages of said process.  In the initial stages, all the LEC reps we spoke with were onboard and comfortable.  Up until that point, communication with the LEC reps and the membership was good.  Everyone knew what was going on, everyone was satisfied that all was going smoothly and in accordance with the directions the MEC had provided to the Negotiating Committee.  ALPAWatch was monitoring the proceedings and all appeared on track to us.

So what happened in those very late stages of negotiations?
The controversial issue is one of input and feedback between the LEC reps, the Negotiating Committee (NC) and the MEC Administration.  More specifically, the alleged off course event occurred when the NC wanted guidance on the issue of profit sharing being converted to a pay increase.  This led to a conference call with the MEC on May 12th.  The LEC reps we talked with said they did not realize this might be their last input before a TA was agreed to.  Since all had been going according to plan, including the required feedback and input opportunities, they assumed that there would be some kind of MEC meeting before a TA was agreed to.

During the conference call, LEC reps gave feedback about the issue at hand, monetizing the profit sharing, but most found it difficult to give guidance on one issue without seeing the whole package, which they assumed would happen before a TA.

The MEC Chairman’s Letter dated June 22, 2012, addressed to DTW Council 20 pilots, describes the Chairman’s recollection of the pivotal events leading up to the TA.  It also responds directly to challenges being made to the TA, primarily by the C20 Chairman.  At the core of this dispute remain these questions.

  • Since conference calls are not official meetings of the MEC, did that call satisfy the requirement to provide feedback and gain input from the MEC?

 

  • Why did the NC, along with the MEC Administration, accept the agreement as a TA without running it by the MEC (special MEC meeting)?

Our research for this Newsletter included many interview questions specifically worded to get answers to these questions.  While varied in intensity, all those interviewed (YES and NO voting LEC reps) had some level of discomfort on how events transpired at the end of the process.  While expressing different levels of discomfort about those events, they took two different views about the severity.

One group’s view is; while not the way they wanted it to go and this issue should be looked at for possible Policy Manual changes, it probably did not affect the quality of the TA.

The other view is that this was a blatant violation of Policy, the NC/MEC Administration should have had a special MEC meeting prior to accepting the TA, and the possibility exists that it did negatively affect the quality of the TA.

Let’s look at a comparison between these two assessments because therein lies the difference, a deep-rooted cultural difference that reflects this merged MEC.

The LEC reps voting FOR the TA largely believe the off course event was a minor deviation.  The NC presented the TA to the MEC and told the MEC flat out, this is all we can get from an expedited process.  Those that were on the fence but voted in favor eventually accepted the NC’s assessment as fact.  Also, backstopping their acceptance is the fact that the NC had been duly elected not once but twice, had conducted itself in a manner that was approved and condoned by the entire MEC (accept for the controversial, late developing events).  Supporting LEC reps have the general attitude of we elected these people to do the job, gave them clear direction and they did it.  Some didn’t see the need to have a special MEC meeting before accepting the agreement as a TA because the MEC has to vote the TA up or down anyway.  If you don’t like the TA then you have an opportunity to vote it down.

            Side Note.  ALPAWatch finds it credible when the NC told the MEC this is all we can get from an expedited TA.  Credible, as in this was an honest assessment on their collective parts.  At some time or another, ALPAWatch has met and spoken with all four members of the NC.  We are familiar with their backgrounds, their resumes and their character.  They are a solid and credible group.  They had no reason to be soft or appeasing to the company and there is no evidence they were coerced by any member of the MEC or the Administration.   We are in no way saying that they got every dollar, or that the company didn’t succeed in holding something back.  We are saying that it was/is the position of these four talented and honest negotiators that, under the circumstances, this was the best deal the company was going to offer at that time.

The LEC reps voting against the TA (besides having well publicized objections to the content of the TA) think errors in the process tainted the TA in a way that made supporting it difficult, apart from its substance.  They say the facts on record show that the MEC Administration strayed from the approved criteria for generating a TA.  Some think the MEC Chairman became overly involved and did not properly involve the entire MEC.  They are sensitive to any possibility of Administration heavy handedness because of past ALPA histories, both at Delta and NWA, that led to accusations of the will of the membership being thwarted.  They point to accepting a TA well short of stated pay goals (survey) as evidence.

Policy Manual changes to address the TA process are already underway, but the question that hangs in the air is, was the quality of the TA compromised by a faulty process?  This question will continue to challenge the cohesiveness of the MEC for some time.

Resolution AI #8 ( or DALPA website Login in required, either way Scroll down to AI #8) was Passed by DTW C20, the hot bed of opposition to the TA, and moved on to the full MEC.  The Resolution proposed specific changes to the Policy Manual so as to prevent a repeat of the controversial events that occurred in the late stages of the TA.

We are concerned that this Resolution met resistance when it reached the full MEC, was replaced by a substitute resolution and was then withdrawn.  We expect this topic to come up at a future MEC meeting (Oct/Nov 2012).

We are also concerned that an MEC level review of the C2012 TA process has not begun.  Such a review was discussed before the MEC voted to approve the TA but as of yet no action has been taken.  No one knows for sure if any revisions to the Policy Manual are warranted, but failing to even review the issue would be a red flag. We will continue to monitor and report as needed.

 

Why did the MEC vote to approve the TA?
First we want to mention and explain the “Hold Harmless Agreement” that was in effect.  The agreement was signed by the Delta MEC and Delta Management prior to the expedited negotiations.  This agreement means that prior to a TA or in the event of a rejected TA, either party could walk away from the expedited negotiation process and be held harmless, as if it never happened.  Delta could offer another expedited TA, however they were not required to.  If either party did walk away, only one path forward would remain, traditional Section 6.  Of course the implication of exercising this agreement could mean months or years to reach a TA.

In the debate over the TA, neither side mentioned the hold harmless agreement in print.  We believe the NO supporters didn’t mention it because a rejected TA path would seem more daunting and therefore more pilots might vote YES.

We’re not sure why the MEC didn’t publicize the hold harmless agreement even though the MEC was pushing for YES votes.  It’s possible they thought publicizing the hold harmless agreement would cross the line of over-selling versus advocating a YES vote.  In plain English the Administration didn’t want to be accused of using scare tactics. 

While we are on this subject we want to point out why the MEC had no qualms about advocating ratification of the TA even though 5 members voted against it.  This is an example of the Delta ALPA culture.  That culture says: the body as a whole approved the TA, therefore the body supports that approval as though it was unanimous.  A vote was taken and the debate is over.  Any dissention must come from the LEC’s via their Councils because the MEC majority was in favor.

Changing minds
A majority in the MEC eventually voted YES even though, initially, some did not think they could because the TA did not meet the requirements set forth.  The turning point for most came with the realization that the expectations for a new contract assumed a full Section 6 process and the many months or years that could take.  The TA was reached in only 2 months.  This TA meant money now.  Also playing into their decision-making is a new philosophy that is taking shape.  A philosophy that goes something like this:  The airline industry has changed.  Traditional Section 6 negotiations are problematic for numerous reasons, including:

  • The lengthy time it takes to negotiate, which often results in lost earning time.  The final agreement comes at a future point in time, when the state of the industry/economy is completely unpredictable.

 

  • On-going efforts at other carriers to obtain restorative, long term contracts via Section 6 (AA) or merger induced, Section 6 like negotiations (UA/CO) have been unsuccessful at best and disastrous at worst.
  • The extreme volatility of the airline industry makes enjoying a long, hard fought, successful Section 6 contract unlikely.  A 4-6 year agreement, arrived after 2-3 years of negotiations creates a 6 -9 year timeline.  So even if a union is successful in obtaining a contract the membership deserves, the odds of living out that agreement are doubtful.  It is more likely than not that during a 4-6 year contract, the membership will be forced to reopen the contract due to economic problems, mergers or other unforeseeable events.  And historically, most contracts are back-end loaded, which increases the likelihood that pilots will never see their hard fought gains.

 

  • The past decade has shown us that a pilot contract can be amended in any and everyway necessary via Letters of Agreement (LOA).  As recently as 10 years ago, most ALPA experts did not believe this was possible.

Combining this new philosophy with an unprecedented expedited timeline and pay rate increases made it a near certainty that the MEC was going to approve the TA for ratification.  Just imagine the political fallout that would have ensued if this TA was voted down by the MEC.  Can you imagine the controversy that would have erupted when the news came out that the pilots were offered a 20% raise but the MEC prevented you from voting on it?  Then add the possibility of a year or more of Section 6 negotiations with no new TA and imagine the debate.  That is a political risk that union leadership simply will not take, regardless of their letterhead.

What are some of the factors that led to an expedited contract?
The concept of such a process did not just appear overnight.  We have reason to believe the seeds of this TA, via an expedited process were planted over a year ago.

There is evidence that the origins of this deal go back to a time when there were efforts made to achieve mid contract pay raises.  ALPAWatch was a big proponent of this idea and in Feb. 2011 we published a series of think tank papers, Way It Has To Be that pushed this idea.  We know that around that time high ranking Delta ALPA officials, probably the Chairman, approached Delta management with the idea of amending the contract for the primary purposes of pay rate increases.  Neither this meeting nor its results were ever made public.  Delta’s response was said to be something along the lines of “let us think about it.”  So the company’s knowledge of our desires for something quick, something front-loaded, possibly in lieu of Section 6, and the possibility of accepting a little less to get something quickly were known at least a year before Section 6 openers were exchanged.  Going further and giving in to speculation, it is not hard to see how our stated desires became one of the small puzzle pieces in a much larger Delta business plan, a plan that we now know about; up-gauging of the airline.

So it isn’t really a surprise that we find ourselves working under a front-loaded, quickly achieved deal, of relative short duration, that is less than what we wanted for a 2-3 year Section 6 contract battle.  Once we went down the path of pay increases, sooner rather than later, which led to expedited negotiations, a company offering of less than what the survey indicated was almost a certainty.  What many of the LEC reps agree upon is that they should have been presented with that offer before it became a TA.

 

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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