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January 16, 2014

In this Issue...

Replacing the MEC Chairman  


The Recall of Chairman Roberts and

Subsequent Election of Captain Donatelli



 In mid October DALPA recalled the MEC Chairman, Kingsley Roberts (Here is the voting record), and during a special election on December 10th, Captain Mike Donatelli was elected MEC Chairman(Here is the voting record).  So what really happened?

First, a little quick clarification.  The recall agenda listed all 4 MEC Administration members but the only real target was Chairman Roberts.  Supporters of Chairman Roberts added the recall the other 3 MEC Administration members (Vice Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer) to the agenda because they believed those 3 were part of the pro recall group.  Threatening the “recallers” with recall themselves was a defense strategy to protect the Chairman, which failed.

ALPAWatch started asking questions as soon as we heard of the possibility of a recall.  Our focus was to determine if DALPA was following its own rules, was there a political scheme at work to install a Chairman of choice , were all those involved (for and against the recall) acting with the best of intentions to cause a favorable outcome for the pilots.  We held off on this report until after the election of a new MEC Chairman.  If some group was attempting a political scheme of removing a Chairman and replacing him with a handpicked person, that scheme would reveal itself during that election.  We did not discover such a scheme.
Our investigation quickly determined that the MEC (and by MEC we mean the body consisting of LEC Representatives who’s votes would determine the outcome of the recall) was divided and fairly polarized as to whether a recall should proceed or not.  The actual recall only solidified the polarization.
As we tried to pick through the arguments looking for a simple explanation, it quickly descended into a “he said, she said” argument.

You Decide for Yourself
The excerpts below are from two Council Updates, C20 DTW and C44 ATL, and represent the opposing views of this debate. These accounts of the same event dramatically illustrate how differently the two sides saw this debate.  Most pilots only see what their councils publish and in the two largest councils those publications were unanimous.  Therefore few pilots have read both sides of this story.  One of the services ALPAWatch provides you is the whole story, presented as independently as possible.  We encourage you to read or at least scan these Updates and draw your own conclusions.

Excerpt from the DAL Council 20 (DTW) Special Update October 13, 2013 (Full Text)

MEC Officer elections were held in November 2012 for the current term, which began January 1 of this year. Capt. Kingsley Roberts was elected as MEC Chairman (CH) over the previous MEC CH. The other three MEC Officers were re-elected. Capt. Roberts knew that there were still some hard feelings in the MEC Office and among some of the MEC members that the previous MEC CH had not been re-elected. He chose to re-appoint a majority of the previous Administration’s committee chairmen, as well as move others to different committees. He also appointed previous LEC reps to committee positions. In an effort to show good faith, and with the intent of making those on the MEC who were supporters and loyalists of the previous 2 MEC administrations feel more comfortable with his Chairmanship, he made a few appointments from within the group who openly did not support him. This includes one of the two Executive Administrators (EA).

Since the Term Began:
Some of the supporters and loyalists of the previous two MEC CH within the MEC Office / administration have been unable adapt to working with an MEC CH that they didn’t prefer. In some cases there were “allegedly” efforts to undermine him. A new LEC Representative Officer term began March 1, with ATL, DTW, and SLC bringing new reps to the MEC. There were also new interim reps finishing an existing term in CVG. With this new group came some reps who we would describe as extremely “ardent ” supporters of the previous MEC Chairman / Chairmen. From the very first MEC meeting of the new MEC in April of this year, questions were asked and concerns were raised about whether Capt. Roberts could do his job. Initially these issues were peripheral to the MEC CH, with others essentially serving as proxies for a direct criticism of Capt. Roberts. We thought that eventually the group of dissatisfied MEC Administration, committee members and MEC members would be able to adapt to a slightly different way of doing business. Apparently, we were wrong.

The Last Two Weeks:
Eventually the cooperation within the MEC Office and Administration reached an unacceptable level.
Capt. Roberts dismissed 3 committee Chairmen and one EA early last week. Not publicly announced, but the specific members have been notifying many about what happened. One of these dismissals was the key architect of the “scourge letter”. This led to threats of calling for a special meeting to recall the MEC CH from the “loyalist” members on the MEC mentioned earlier. Capt. Roberts scheduled a special meeting later last week for October 17 to explain the committee and EA decisions that he made. Capt. Roberts re-appointed at least one of the dismissed members to avoid this public recall fight. It is unclear whether there was a misunderstanding or whether a deal was reneged upon, because.......
On last Friday morning 9 MEC members submitted a letter requesting a recall of the MEC CH. The explanation for the request essentially placed the responsibility for the MEC office “dysfunction” on the MEC CH. Taken from respective LEC communications, the names on the letter included the two Capt Reps and one F/O rep from ATL (C44) and both of the SLC (C81) reps. Of course; signing the letter doesn’t mandate in any way how the signatory representative ultimately votes on the recall.
Late on Friday afternoon, a different 9 MEC members supported and / or requested a recall of the MEC VC, Secretary, and Treasurer. That included both of us, the C20 status reps. In short; we believed that any “dysfunction” was primarily due to the other three Officers being unwilling / unable to work for an MEC CH not of their choice. Other reps who have publicly stated that they signed the request to recall the other three MEC Officers include both MSP (C1) reps and one of the ATL (C44) F/O reps.
In either case it’s not a secret who signed these letters, but since many reps have preferred not to mention how they were involved, we will honor their anonymity at least until we see how the meeting turns out. Based upon these (two) requests, each from greater than 30% of the MEC status reps, Capt. Roberts amended the agenda of the already scheduled Thursday, October 17 special meeting to consist of all four agenda items.

Excerpt from the DAL Council 44 (ATL) Communiqué October 20, 2013 (Full Text)

Fellow Council 44 Pilots,

On Friday, October 18th the MEC recalled the Delta MEC Chairman after more than eleven Hours of investigation, debate and discussion, all of which was in open session. Our Constitution and By-Laws provide for a time proven process for recall, which is both
transparent to the membership and allows a seamless transition to an Acting MEC Chairman so that the pilots business continues.
The MEC Vice Chairman, Captain James Van Sickle, is now the Acting MEC Chairman. Within 60 days, Chairman Van Sickle will
call for and hold an election for MEC Chairman to complete the term of office that ends on Dec ember 31, 2014. Acting MEC Chairman, Captain Jim Van Sickle is an Atlanta - based 767 - 400 pilot. He was hired by Northwest in 1984. Past positions include the 727 SO, 747 - 200 SO, 747 - 200 FO, 747 - 400 FO, 727 CA, and 747 - 200 CA. Prior to being elected vice chairman in 2009, Captain Van Sickle served as a member of the Northwest MEC Negotiating Committee, LEC Contract Administration volunteer and family Awareness Committee member. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973, served in the Navy and Naval Air Reserves, and retired with the rank of Commander. Captain Van Sickle is a highly experienced, capable, and respected union leader both within the Delta MEC and throughout the industry. All four of your representatives have the utmost confidence in Captain Van Sickle’s leadership during this interim period and he will receive our full support. Through phone conversations and emails many of you have rightly asked, “what the heck is going on?” Before we share our perspective, we want to reassure you that your union is fine and your work is being done.
This was not about any malfeasance and there is no major change in MEC direction and strategy or some nefarious political agenda.
The pilots run this union, not any one person, and the MEC, composed of pilot elected representatives, are the governing body.
The MEC, in its role as the governing body, has determined through the democratic process that we had to make a change to move us forward and that electing a new Chairman at this point could better prepare us for future challenges and negotiations.


The Specifics:
Your MEC elects and directs the MEC Chairman, and as such the MEC Chairman is accountable to and serves at the pleasure of the MEC. In the past several months there have been concerns over several events that have taken place in the MEC administration,
most recently in September and October. The concerns we had were not about an abuse of authority or criminal activity (or any of the many rumors out there that serve as internet forum gossip), but rather a leadership and a management style that was not
conducive to getting the work of the Delta pilots done in an effective and efficient manner. As we go through some of the specifics, we hope that you can appreciate that this is a difficult topic for us to address in writing; the former Master Chairman is a personal friend and a dedicated ALPA volunteer. The MEC meeting was open and many things were said that were not pleasant, but important to the process and resolution. We will not resort to the personal, but focus on the performance.       

Unilateral decision making:
A good leader values the input of his team and coworkers. He does not reject input or make decisions unilaterally and then revisit them after the fact. The MEC Chairman implemented major changes or made decisions on more than one occasion without the input or consulting with other members of his administration. Most recently, the unilateral decision to simultaneously fire several
committee chairmen with no explanation and no apparent prior planning or forethought of the effect this would have on ongoing negotiations and major initiatives directed by the MEC. This was the second time he had started down this path and the second time he retracted or partially retracted his decision, but not until after much damage had been done and dues dollars needlessly exhausted. To be clear, these chairmen were not fired because they weren’t capably doing their jobs, nor were any of them counseled by the chairman that their work product was deficient in any manner. Furthermore, he unilaterally decided to contact upper level management about “difficult internal issues” at one point, and “personnel firings” at another without consulting with the other elected officers prior to taking action. It’s not about the personnel; it’s about impulsive actions, the decision-making process and a lack of critical thinking.
Unilateral and impulsive decisions and actions, such as these, call into question how we would meet future challenges and whether ill thought out decisions, made in haste without broadening the team could prejudice the Delta pilots in the future.        

Building a team :
The Chairman was elected almost a year ago. He had been in office since January and has struggled to build an effective team of committee personnel. He was on his third Communication Chairman, third Executive Administrator (EA), (one EA he fired and then subsequently rehired, which technically is now his fourth), second Strategic Planning Chairman, he had impulsively and unilaterally fired the International Affairs and Alliance Committee (IAAC) Chairman and an Ad Hoc Committee Chairman,
effectively shutting down an MEC initiative he was directed to fully support by the MEC. These committee chairmen were not “left over” from the previous administration as some have alleged. These were positions he had filled and the MEC had confirmed.
The Master Chairman has the responsibility and authority to appoint and fire much of the committee structure, but he is ultimately accountable to the MEC for his decisions. The lack of forethought in his decision making process and lack of transition planning allowed three of these positions to go vacant and resulted in cancelled committee plans and obligations, obligations that had been directed by the MEC, with a significant amount of man hours and dues money spent. When we inquired, the other elected officers told us that getting the work done in the MEC offices was becoming very difficult in the current atmosphere. There were also issues with professional staff that we will not discuss further.

Our number one priority is to improve the pay, working conditions, benefits and job security of the Delta pilots. One of our greatest concerns was the support of our negotiating team. Our pilots tell us the number one priority to them is pay and the most important thing is their contract. The ALPA Constitution and By- Laws state that the MEC Chairman is an ex officio member of the Negotiating Committee. His involvement and interests in negotiations is crucial to finalizing negotiations. Friday, we heard in open session testimony from the negotiating committee that the Master Chairman was not engaged with the negotiators and that there was no confidence that the Master Chairman could close the deal if they needed him to. Furthermore, negotiating committee testimony stated that there was little interaction and coordination between the negotiators and Master Chairman and with important negotiations beginning next week, they did not learn about the Executive Administrator for International Affairs being fired until several days after the event. More comments were made, and we will reserve them for private conversations, but they would best be described as devastating to our confidence that the Master Chairman could coordinate our efforts and help bring to a close negotiations with the results that you desire.

After interviewing some of the LEC Reps that voted in the recall, ALPAWatch found two general lines of reasoning for their decision:
For Recall.  Chairman Roberts was guilty of the charges and/or too many Committee and Administration people said they could not work with CH Roberts.
Against recall.  None of the evidence/testimony rose to a level necessary for a recall.  There were no “high crimes or misdemeanors” and the work of DALPA was getting done.  Disagreeing with a management style does not qualify for recall, especially when most of those bringing accusations serve at the pleasure of the Chairman.

Reading Between the Lines
Both sides were biased towards a result before testimony was heard.  One side was very prepared with their case against the Chairman, including the willingness to use the highly discouraged Roll Call Vote( Normal is Senatorial vote…one man, one vote.  Roll Call vote means each LEC is voting with the number of pilots they represent.  Its use is discouraged because it heavily weights a vote toward the large bases).

The other side tried several diplomatic solutions to avoid a recall vote.  When that failed, they went after the rest of the MEC Administration by added their positions to the recall agenda.  In the end, the two biases can be summed up as:

Those in favor of recall might have not been so critical of the Chairman had they not disagreed with his management style and the reforms he had in mind for DALPA.

Those against the recall were willing to overlook a few negatives and tolerate the friction within the MEC Administration because Chairman Roberts was attempting reforms that they agree with.

Some have called this recall a coup.  Some characterized it as just necessary union business.  Neither is true.

It was not a coup because it was conducted within the by-laws and a majority voted in favor of recall, senatorially and roll call. (Senatorial vote was 10 to 9.  A recall requires a super majority 2/3, thus the roll call). 

It was more than just necessary union business.  The group seeking recall was highly organized with interlocking testimony, talking points, etc and then there is the Roll Call Vote issue.

And even if this was a coup attempt, the second phase of hand picking the replacement Chairman failed.  Captain Mike Donatelli was elected as the new MEC Chairman.  We were watching the replacement election for signs of a political agenda at work, a scheme if you will.  We can’t say for sure that a scheme wasn’t at work, but the results deny a scheme’s success.  There is no rational scenario of a scheme that ends with the election of Captain Donatelli.  He was a compromise in order to keep Art Aaron (SEA LEC VC) from becoming chairman.


Understanding the Bigger Picture
Just as it is when couples fight, the argument is usually not about what is on the surface but deeper issues. The deeper issue here is a difference in opinion about how the union should operate; in particular to what degree does the union operate in a bottom up fashion, as required by the by-laws.

The group behind the recall strongly holds to a certain cultural idea they believe delivers the best result to the pilots.  Some of the elements of that idea are: the pilots run the union because they elect the LEC reps and the LEC reps elect the MEC Administration (Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer) who in turn appoints the Committee members (LEC approval required but in reality the Chairman gets his way).  They also expect strong leadership at the top that permeates down through the organization.  They believe that the LEC is there to give the Administration direction and it is up the Chairman to carry it out.  A perfect example of this is the statement from the C44 Communiqué above.  “Friday, we heard in open session testimony from the negotiating committee that the Master Chairman was not engaged with the negotiators and that there was no confidence that the Master Chairman could close the deal if they needed him to.”  Now many LEC Reps and Delta pilots believe that the Chairman should be a strong leader and be the person that “closes the deal, “as happened in C2012.  Others believe this is a top down mentality and it is the core issue that causes major friction within the MEC.

The group that opposed the recall believes DALPA operates in too much of a top down manner and is not transparent enough.  They point to our last PWA process as an example.  The Chairman (prior to Roberts) and the Negotiations Committee decided to proceed to a Tentative Agreement level without running it through the MEC first.

Both sides are highly frustrated with the other.  We should point out that this problem is not just a DALPA problem but a problem inherent to any democratically structured organization.  The structure is there for a bottom up organization but the elected reps, those closest to the membership; do not perform the day to day work of the union.  That is done by the Administration, the Committee members and the support staff.  The LEC reps are out flying the line (as they should) and representing pilots when they have a problem with the company (it happens way more often than you think).  The day in and day out work gets done by the above mentioned.  The Administration cannot go to the LEC Reps for every decision any more than the LEC Reps can come to their pilots for every decision, and that is where the rub is.  Where do you draw the line between the day to day and issues that rise to the importance of calling a full MEC meeting; or waiting till the next quarterly MEC meeting?


Roberts Legacy?
ALPAWatch has always held the position that the union needs to follow its own rules and in keeping with that we have pushed for a more bottom up, transparent union. Chairman Roberts was attempting to make changes along those lines and others, such as Flight Pay Loss. Chairman Roberts believed Flight Pay Loss was excessive in some situations and he was changing the policy. The new policy would have negatively affected the schedule and income of some of his accusers, accusers that testified and are closely allied with others that testified against Chairman Roberts.

Those calling for his recall have said those reform concepts had nothing to do with his recall. That said, ALPAWatch calls on Chairman Donatelli and the entire MEC to continue Chairman Roberts’ reform efforts of a more bottom up, transparent union and put an end to cronyism.

As always, if you have strong feelings about these subjects, one way or the other, you should contact your Council Reps and let them know what you think.


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.