Air Transport World

Turbulence wracks pilots' union. (Air Line Pilots Association)

The postderegulation era has been tough for the Air Line Pilots Assn. Employers have disappeared or are demanding hefty pay and productivity concessions. Members say the national union is at least behind the times and possibly no longer relevant. Also that it is as paternalistic and undemocratic as their employers and costs too much. ALPA responds that it is changing.

Established in 1931, ALPA played a key role in shaping the laws and regulations that govern U.S. commercial aviation. And until deregulation in 1978, the pilots of only one major passenger airline, American, broke ranks--as the result of a lawsuit over cockpit-crew size that went to the Supreme Court. They formed the independent Allied Pilots Assn. in 1963.

But mergers, bankruptcies and competition have broken up that almost solid front. ALPA President Randolph Babbitt notes: "A lot went on in the 1980s. There was a high number of bankruptcies. Members may have wished otherwise [but] I couldn't do anything about that." Some disagree.

ALPA never appeared to be comfortable as a traditional labor union. Prior to 1978, it was derided by other unions for being in league with management, for example, refusing to honor other unions' strikes. More recently, Babbitt made himself unpopular with AFL-CIO by offering a more moderate position on striker-replacement legislation than the federation's.

But ALPA recognized the potential implications of Frank Lorenzo's nonunion New York Air and fought him from the beginning. That recognition failed to produce results for members. In 1983, Continental's mechanics struck in response to Lorenzo's demands after he took over. While CAL pilots agreed to some, not all, of the concessions asked of them, Lorenzo filed for bankruptcy and abrogated union contracts. ALPA then called a strike but not all pilots honored it. The ill will, which produced some violence, plus the fact that other airlines' ALPA pilots crossed the picket line, resulted in the 1993 selection of the Independent Assn. of Continental Pilots as bargaining agent. IACP won 71% of the votes vs. 29% for ALPA, which was decertified in 1985.

Rene Minjares, a founder of IACP, recalls: "We not only knew they [other airlines' pilots! castigated us but they wanted us ont of business. It was one of the major contributors" to IACP's victory over ALPA. …

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