HOLLYWOOD, FL—In the opening address to a delegation of nearly 500 pilot union representatives, Capt. Duane E. Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, today outlined the challenges confronting the airline industry and the piloting profession.
Woerth`s speech, which launched the thirty-ninth regular biennial meeting of ALPA`s Board of Directors, urged union leaders to join together to dispel the myth that pilot labor costs have caused the industry’s decline and called on ALPA members to collectively fight managements` campaign to pit pilot group against pilot group.
Woerth said that, in an effort to reduce employee costs, airline managements are forcing employees to compete for their own jobs, and accept lower pay and tougher work rules. For airline pilots, this “whipsawing” threat often comes within an airline family, or brand, as managements transfer routes from one pilot group to another pilot group in a race to the lowest common denominator.
According to Woerth, pilots must adopt a new outlook on contractual “scope” provisions, the clauses in their contracts aimed at protecting jobs. “All of us need to work on a coordinated scope strategy to remove managements` financial incentive to develop substandard subsets within the brand and accelerate the proverbial race to the bottom,” he said. “The next-generation scope must set contract standards for all flying under the same brand and focus on the quality of contracts rather than merely on the quantity of the small-jet aircraft.”
Among other challenges before the Association, Woerth asserted, is the unfair and excessive burden of user fees and taxes heaped on the airlines, and the consequential pressure on labor to compensate for the carriers` financial predicament. “Today, 15 different types of fees and taxes are added to ticket prices or cargo bills, accounting for 26 percent of the total cost,” Woerth said.
The additional costs and fees of post-9/11 security reforms exacerbate the airlines’ financial problems. “It has been reported many times that we are at war. The news media reports on the war on terrorism every day. Yet to finance this war, the industry that was its primary victim is being asked to pay for the war through increased user fees and security costs that cannot be passed on to the consumer,” Woerth said. “If it is a war, then the majority of the budget to fight the war rightly belongs to the Department of Defense or Homeland Security. It should not be borne on the backs of airline employees,” he said.
Yet the terms and conditions of the Airline Stabilization Loan Guarantee Board, stipulated by the Bush administration, ensure that airline workers ultimately shoulder the burden. “The loan guarantee board is being used as a club to beat concessionary deals out of airline unions - especially pilots,” he said.
In the week ahead, the ALPA Board`s delegate committees and full assembly will deliberate and act on proposed initiatives to confront these and other challenges, which may require innovation and departures from the status quo.
“But I have great news for you today. As your president, I`ve had the opportunity to meet with the elected leadership of every pilot group here and we`ve got the right stuff.”