Unions, Why? Do we really need one?

enigma

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As I read all of the posts about RJDC/ALPA/DALMEC/CMRMEC/ASAMEC, I am impressed by the intelligence, thoughtfullness, logic and writing ability that some of us have. I am not nearly close enough to the situation, nor smart enough, to add any intelligent thought to that debate. It is obviously a situation that was not planned, (sort of like the roads in Austin Texas), it has evolved. No one had the foresight nor the leadership required to head this outlaw off at the pass. I am quite glad that I don't have to attempt to settle it. One thing for sure, it will require someone with the wisdom of King Solomon to resolve. Good Luck to us all.

I do wish to ask some of you, (like timebuilder, surplus, surplus1, braniff, IFF, and other thinkers) for your inputs to these broad questions.

Why do unions exist?

What do unions protect against?

What is the cause of low wages?

Why do unionized industries pay higher wages? (If in fact they actually do.)

Is ALPA a "trade" union, or a "industry affiliation" union? (I may have the incorrect term for "industry affiliation, it's been a while since I took that subject in school.

And a few specific questions.

If each airlines union/MEC is totally responsible for the relationship(CBA/contract) it has with the airline, What is the proper role for ALPA national?

To follow up on the last one. In the DAL versus DCI conflict, did national have any type of control in the situation? If so, how can ALPA (at the national level) maintain (as I believe that it does) that ALPA national has no ability to set any kind of industry standard of wages/work rules/benefits?

One small comment. I support ALPA. (mainly because ALPA is the best protector of safety, professional standards, etc) I wear my pin proudly. But as a member from a small carrier, I certainly see a need for the association taking a stand for establishing industrywide standards. I've previously said that when you call a plumber in New York you pay union scale, If the plumbers can work together enough to ensure that it is worth $200 to install a crapper no matter which plumber does the install, then why can't pilots work together to ensure that it is worth $XXX per year to Captain a Part 121 jet, no matter which Captain you call?

One last thought. ALPA maintains that each MEC is stand alone, yet when someone else goes on strike, they assess us all. It seems to me that by that action, ALPA national affirms that we are in effect one group.

regards
8N

BTW, for the flamers out there, If you think you see inconsistency in some of the questions I post in various places. They're called "rhetorical" questions, if I remember my schooling.
 

bobbysamd

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Labor Unions 101

Let me try to answer a few of your questions. You ask a lot of excellent questions, rhetorical or not. Your questions only further my conviction that pilots should study American Labor Movement or some such course in college along with with aerodynamics, systems, flight phys and ground school.

I don't claim to be an historian or anything like that. I'll hit a few points and I'm sure others will augment them and add some of their own.

Tradesmen and skilled workers in Europe organized into guilds around the 16th or 17th century, but labor unions as we think of them started during the 1800s, around the time of the Industrial Revolution, give or take several (?) years. I believe they were started initially in America by cigar makers. Later, Samuel Gompers began to organize workers under the American Federation of Labor. Workers organized to combat what they percieved were abuses by employers, such as low wages, long work days, unsafe working conditions and unfair treatment. These workers felt these conditions were wrong and decided they could obtain better conditions by speaking with one voice. From the early 1900s until maybe the '70s or '80s, unions were very powerful. Then, the mood of the country started to shift to the right and unions lost a lot of their power. During this time, there was a lot of corruption in labor unions. For example, you may have heard about Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, but that's outside the scope (sorry) of this discussion.

Unions will enter into contractual agreements with management. As you can well imagine, there is a great deal of negotiation and compromise that goes into a labor contract, and not everyone may be happy with it. After both sides come up with an agreement, the union members vote on it. The vote will determine if strikes are authorized.

Unions are supposed to protect against employee abuse by management. Unions have struck for better and safer working conditions as well as better wages. There are all kinds of things that can involve union intervention and negotiation.

Some management will often oppose unions because they believe sincerely that they can treat their employees better without a union. I've seen that happen personally. However, management might feel that the cost of wages and benefits and working conditions unions demand are out of line and cut into profits, or are simply unnecessary.

Finally, the reason why some industries pay low wages is simple. It's all just supply and demand. Aviation is a classic example. Don't believe for a minute that there is a pilot shortage. There are always far more applicants available for each pilot job. They just want a flying job and will work cheap. A classic example is Mesa. For years there was no union there. It was a family-run company that worked people to the bone and paid its employees and pilots terribly. Mesa got away with it and found ways to fend off unions for years. Finally, I believe it was ALPA which organized Mesa's pilots. I understand things are better there now.

One other point. It seems to me, anyway, that management always tries to find loopholes in its contract with a union to get away with things and to avoid giving employees what they bargained for. My favorite example is the local grocery union. The Retail Clerks is a strong union and negotiated a good contract. However, the stores hire primarily part-time employees. That way, they get around providing them benies. The kicker of this is these part-time workers have to join the union. All of these stores are closed shop. While I basically support labor unions, I feel there is something wrong with this deal.

Hope that helps a little. Undoubtedly, others will add more.
 
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enigma

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Re: Labor Unions 101

bobbysamd said:
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Finally, the reason why some industries pay low wages is simple. It's all just supply and demand. Aviation is a classic example. Don't believe for a minute that there is a pilot shortage. There are always far more applicants available for each pilot job. They just want a flying job and will work cheap. A classic example is Mesa. For years there was no union there. It was a family-run company that worked people to the bone and paid its employees and pilots terribly. Mesa got away with it and found ways to fend off unions for years. Finally, I believe it was ALPA which organized Mesa's pilots. I understand things are better there now.


Mesa. I worked there when we were non-union. We had a informal pilots group that tried to bargain for better treatment; but whenever we asked for something Johnny O, or Grady Reed, would slap a three inch thick stack of resumes on the table and say that we were being paid what the market would bear. Which brings me back to one of my original subjects. How does a union affect wages?
 

bobbysamd

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Grady Reed and Union Wages 102

He was a piece of work, wasn't he? Reed interviewed me in 1990 when I applied for a job. In those days, those "controversial" RJs were on the drawing boards and in the magazines. He asked me if I had any questions; I asked him if Mesa would eventually acquire RJs. I didn't think I asked an unreasonable question. He said "no" and he clearly did not like my question. I will go to my grave believing that my question about RJs sent me home. I didn't realize that Mr. Reed was Mr. Beech 1900 at Mesa. Of course, as Paul Harvey says, we know the rest of the story about Mesa's RJs. I digress, but I had to get that in.

Ornstein and Grady were making the point of mine that you quoted. Supply and demand. Too many people want to be pilots and will work for nothing to do it. It is the same for other "glamour" professions, such as broadcasting. People want to be big-time disk jockeys and announcers and don't care how much they're paid. Radio stations don't have much trouble finding help. I've been there and done that. I never worked in a union shop, though.

Unions by their definition can affect wages. Once a labor group has organized and management recognizes the union, management and the union will enter into collective bargaining. Wages can be an issue. Pilots, speaking through their representative, will try to negotiate what they believe is a fair wage. Fair is a relative term. Let's say, for our example and for discussion's sake, that Mesa FOs were making $9 per hour (that's not that far-fetched, is it?). However, Comair FOs were making $20 an hour. So Mesa's union will demand the same or a higher wage. The union will argue that Mesa's crews work longer shifts and have to live in Hobbs, while Comair crews live in Orlando and Cincinnati, so Mesa crews deserve a higher wage. Well, Larry Risley and Grady will cry that their airplanes aren't making their load factor. But they'll say they want to be fair, so, very gratuitously, they'll agree pay the FOs $15 an hour. There's a meeting of the minds, a contract is signed and voted in. Even though we know da*n well that Mesa made money on its 1900s by filling two seats out of 19, management knows that if it doesn't make concessions, the pilots will strike.

A labor disruption is the leverage unions have to try to force concessions. Workers in other unions, in theory, won't cross. Not all labor disruptions are successful, though. Some companies are willing to tolerate a long strike to try to bust a union. They hope that members will tire of the strike and scab. And if a few scab, more and more will scab. That happens.

Once again, this example is only for discussion's sake and for illustrative purposes and not to ignite a flame war. I made up the figures. The flame on Grady Reed is intentional. :(
 
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publisher

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Ah

Ah, here we have some of our most articulate posters and again offering wit and experience.

Here is a perspective that may tickle your thought process.

Unions are responsible for the low pay of new pilots........

Have your attention, how about yours Bobby.

Here is what happens in heavily unionized businesses that is merely a result of a systemic fault.

Union contracts, by design, are merely focused on obtaining a 51% of the existing employees voting accepting the terms. To accomplish that, usually the negotiating committees look at the demographic that will result in obtaining that vote and then cater to it.

The result is that the employees that are not voting, that is the ones that will come in during the near future, are ignored. The contract usually caters to the senior leadership and the mid senority group. In short, you look at the labor group and try to appeal to the group with the most folks.

Now you may think that the union is not like the company management from this regard. You would be wrong. A strike empties their funds, they have every reason to seek the same quick deal that management does.

Looking for just a second to the economics./ A 5% across the board pay increase impacts the company more on the high side than the low side unless you have fewer people in the ratio.

In short, the real picture here is not pretty and there are no real winners.
 

Timebuilder

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Bobby has said most of what I was going to say, but I had to leave the house and get some fresh air. This resume sending is monotonous.

From 1976 to 1990, I worked for several stations, and only one had a union contract. By working there as a dues paying member, I received health benefits, a disability benefit (I suppose that meant if I was struck with a case of Lockjaw...) and what were by far the best wages I had ever earned. One of the town's most popular stations had no union, and it kept the union out by keeping pace with what the other stations were offering. There was no incentive for workers to organize because they were well taken care of.

The point of a union is collective bargaining. When workers speak as a group, they have a more powerful position during bargaining over wages, benefits, conditions, grievances, and the like.

I imagine the plumbers in New York can set a wage standard because they all work within the five boroughs. While it wouldn't be impossible to set national wage standards, there has been no concerted effort to do so. Could it be that it is not in ALPA's best interest to do so? I don't know.

One of the best contemporary portrayals of modern union activity is the Sally Field movie "Norma Rae", based on a true story of ladies attempting to organize J.P. Stevens, the southern textile manufacturer.

I have no doubt that many unions help to uphold a professional standard. In many industries, we wouldn’t have a seat at the table without them. With a good management team, we don't need them, because good managers see employees as assets, not as liabilities.
 

bobbysamd

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Union elections

Publisher, whose comments always catch my attention, does bring up a downside of unions. Timebuilder brings up another downside.

I'll take Timebuilder's point first because it supports his point about non-union radio stations. My father was the COO of a small industrial corporation. His work was very dirty and hazardous, and his employees were perhaps ripe to be organized. He knew that and he realized the importance of keeping good workers. He hated unions because he offered his employees better wages and fringes than what the union wanted. He was an old-fashioned type of paternalistic employer, the type you grow up hearing about. He treated his workers better than what any union could negotiate. My dad had people who worked for the company 40-50 years, in a very unclean type of industry. There was a union, but the people decertified it eventually.

Publisher raises the point about union politics. Really, a union is a microcosm of society. There is same type of campaigning for union office and maybe for the steward positions as you see in government elections. I remember when I lived in OKC and drove past the G.M. plant one time. There was a UAW election and I saw campaign signs that looked liked there was a presidential election going on. It was - for president of that local. By the same token, the leaders will try to forge a consensus for a contract. The hope is that most people will be satisfied with it.

Having said all that, unless you're working for a truly benevolent company, workers need representation. Most companies these days will try to offer as little as possible to keep employees because they know they won't have trouble getting them. See, e.g., Mesa, or most any other commuter. Instead of making it an attractive career, they figure that most pilots are there to build experience and move on. They gripe about turnover and treat their pilots poorly. Perhaps if they tried to be more attractive, more pilots would choose them as their career.

Sadly, benevolent companies such as my dad's are falling by the wayside. Some of these heretofore benevolent companies still expect their employees to be loyal to them. Myself, I have trouble returning loyalty to a company that could care less if I stay or leave. Timebuilder, I have no doubt in my mind that you worked for a few radio stations that exhibited that attitude. I sure did.

I didn't intend this post to end up as a speech, but I hope people are getting something out of this thread.
 
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~~~^~~~

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Enigma:

As an ALPA member you should have received copies of Flying the Line I and II. If not, call your LEC or National to request copies.
Why do unions exist? What do unions protect against?
What is the cause of low wages?
Generally, there have always been more pilots than there have been jobs. When ALPA was founded many pilots were dying in weather related accidents. Literally your boss would come to you and demand you fly in unsafe conditions. If you refused, you were fired and the next pilot hauled the mail until he was either killed, quit, or refused the flight.

Unions exist to bring employees together to negotiate with management collectively. There is strength in standing together.

ALPA is structured in such a way that ALPA national actually represents all ALPA members to our employers. If you notice, every contract is authorized and signed by Duane Woerth, or a National Officer.

Originally the goal of this power structure was to make pilot wages uniform across the industry so that no airline would have an unfair advantage by hiring "cheap" labor. Let me quote Mr. George Hopkins, ALPA's historian.

Thus ALPA confronts an old problem. The Old Guys knew about it. They ardently believed that wages and working conditions should be roughly the same for all pilots, regardless of the airline they worked for. How does ALPA make that old dream a reality? Modern pilots live with working conditions whose disparities between those at a regional airline and those at a "major" airline dwarf the differences between yesteryear's "trunk" and "feeder" pilots. Yet modern pilots are no less integrally part of "the system" than were pilots in the old regulated system. ALPA must once again confront this old challenge, presented in different form, of making every pilot's wage a living one. An old axiom of history holds that the past is prologue. Or put more plainly - what comes around, goes around"

That having been said, ALPA national has always struggled when confronted by an aggressive, predatory, MEC at a large carrier. While National technically has control, the reality is that they will do anything to avoid losing the membership of an airline the size of Delta. When ALPA pushed for a merger of Air Canada with its regional, the mainline pilots left the union.

Under ALPA's Constitution and Bylaws the Connection carriers should have been merged when acquired. However, National is unwilling to follow its own rules - particularly when threatened with the defection of the Delta pilots.

ALPA owes all of its pilots the same duty of representation. The problem is that with five groups of pilots performing Delta flying there are five different masters with competing agendas. Obviously the largest and richest is the Delta MEC. Without proper leadership from ALPA national, the Delta MEC has used ALPA National's exclusive bargaining agent power to exclude the other four MEC's from being able to represent their employees to Delta management.

Alter ego airlines have historically been ALPA's downfall. ALPA's own historian and many folks at ALPA national are in agreement with what the RJDC is trying to achieve. Have you noticed that ALPA national has not contradicted RJDC information, or positions? Other than a little complaining about the financial risk, ALPA national has been mostly silent on the issue. ALPA would be a stronger union if all pilots on the Delta property were brought together, it just makes sense. ALPA national would love to see this whole headache go away.

To restore this industry, ALPA national must look to its past strengths and bring pilots together.

Regards,
~~~^~~~ (Fins to the Left!)
 

Timebuilder

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An excellent clarification.

I had a feeling that something like this was behind the representation mess. Perhaps national will find the guts they need in the judge's chambers, before this suit runs its course. That could be a loss for all of us.
 

Freight Dog

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To publisher

publisher said:


Unions are responsible for the low pay of new pilots........


Gotta disagree with you here. When Island Air was a nonunion shop, we had reserve pilots who were not paid when they did not fly, and FO's who flew were paid as little as $6 per hour. Captains weren't paid much more than that.

Now, we have ALPA on the property. Reserve pilots get their 70 hour guarantee whether they fly or not. If you are a reserve pilot, you bid for and usually get the days off you want, so basically you are writing your reserve schedule. Much different picture than before ALPA on the property.

For the rest, I refer you to Flying The Line I and II.
 

bobbysamd

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Flying the Line

Excellent post, ~~~^~~~, although your comment about generally there have been more pilots than jobs is a major understatement. I wouldn't say generally; I would say straight-across-the-board historically.

Is this publication available to people like me, who aren't flying and/or are not ALPA members? Sounds like a great read.

I haven't heard the terms "feeder" and "trunk" in years, but really, I don't see a whole lot of difference between that and the regional and mainline relationships of today.
 

publisher

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Discussion

We ought to stop now as this was probably the most gentlemanly and intelligent discussion in some time.

All of the points here are part of it. Mine were more related to big carrier contracts. It was not a condemnation in anyway but points out some of the side effects and how they influence things.

I was negotiating a contract with a union, not in aviation, and the union rep told me that most of the guys wanted to strike because deer hunting season was the same date as the contract expiriation so they did not want him to settle. He thought we were being fair but needed to make it look good for the boys. Would I agree to meet him at a mediators.

We ended up doing just that. We played cards for 5 hours in the mediators office and came out and said we had agreed. I insisted that the dates for future contracts be changed.
 

Draginass

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If you don't like unions, try flying for a non-union company as an at will employee and see how you like it. Been there, done that, won't do it again.
 

Timebuilder

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I agree, Draginass.

As a note to the younger pilots, and especially to those who took last week's explanation of my flight instructor job experience to heart:

part of what made the past few months so frustrating for me was that I had agreed to work as an "independent contractor", just as all of the other instructors had done. Consequently, since I was not an actual "employee", I have no unemployment benefits. I will try to avoid a similar arangement in the future. When you soon-to-be CFI's take that first job, I recommend that you try to avoid that type of employment, too.
 

CF34-3B1

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Re: Flying the Line

bobbysamd said:
Is this publication available to people like me, who aren't flying and/or are not ALPA members? Sounds like a great read..

Amazon.Com has it if you can't get one from ALPA
 

bobbysamd

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Flying the Line

Thank you. Excellent. I'll look for it.
 

enigma

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bobbysamd said:
He was a piece of work, wasn't he? I didn't realize that Mr. Reed was Mr. Beech 1900
at Mesa.

Ornstein and Grady were making the point of mine that you quoted. Supply and demand.
Too many people want to be pilots and will work for nothing to do it. It is the same for
other "glamour" professions, such as broadcasting. People want to be big-time disk
jockeys and announcers and don't care how much they're paid. Radio stations don't have
much trouble finding help. I've been there and done that. I never worked in a union shop,
though.

Unions by their definition can affect wages. The flame on Grady Reed is intentional. :(
Grady Reed ....Mr 1900??????????????????????????????????????

Heck He only passed the type ride because he was management. He and another management type got lost between ICT and DEN when they attempted to deliver N2YV, the first 1900D. To my knowledge, Grady never flew the line. He was hired in 1989 as an
FO but was moved to management before he checked out when Risley found out about his management experience in the Air Force. After Mesa built a bunkhouse across from HQ to
house the pilots/FA's/agents in training, we always made sure we flushed twice to send a 'grady-gram" across the way.
Actually, I never had any personal problem with Grady, but he was NOT a friend to pilots.

I don't have time at present to get too deep into economics, but I will say this. Unions can only affect wages in the short term. Long term, supply and demand will rule.

I previously asked whether anyone knew of the difference between a trade union and an Industrial Affiliation union. No one has, as of yet, addressed this point. I believe in trade
unions. (unions of professionals banded together to uphold the standards of their trade) And I think that as a trade union ALPA has a vital role in maintaining the common good of airline pilots as it pertains to professional standards, safety, protection against arbitrary management actions against individual members, etc.

As a collective bargaining agent, a union can only control wages by "shutting the door" on other pilots. In other words, we legally control the supply.. ONLY AT THE COMPANY THAT OUR CBA IS MADE WITH.

SCOPE is a legal device to achieve this goal, but eventually the market will win. Supply and Demand.

For example, DALPA can control scope within Delta, but it can't do anything about AirTran. In the macro economic environment, other suppliers of the product, in our case air transportation, who have taken advantage of the williness of others to work for less,
will eventually cause the wages to drop. It has something to do with competition. (just a little sarcasm there, sorry)

Bottom line, a union may bring up wages at one particular company, but in the total free market environment, that company will eventually go broke when it is undercut by its competitors who access the true labor market.

Those who work for less are the true enemy.

I'm out of time, More later.

8N
 

kilomike

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Greedy Reedy

Maybe Grady Reed's name should be "Greedy" Reed!
 

av8instyle

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Unions are responsible for the low pay of new pilots
Besides the previous points regarding this statement, I'd have to say that airline pay wouldn't be anywhere close to what it is today if it weren't for unions.
 

bobbysamd

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Grady Reed

I didn't know that Reed and the other Mesa type got lost delivering the first 1900. That's pretty rich. I did know about his AF background and I knew that Risley liked that and made him a "manager." The reason I referred to him as Mr. 1900 was because I had found out later that he managed that part of Mesa or something like that.

I've heard about the Grady valve story, in which he opened a cap to an hydraulic valve under pressure and it spewed forth fluid, on him primarily.

On the other hand, I heard that his son joined Mesa and was actually a sharp guy and nothing like Grady.

I remember clearly how much Risley loved the 1900s. Nothing wrong with that. I always understood the airplane made money with a load factor of something like two pax. I do recall that Risley hated the Brasilias. They seemed to go down often for maintenance and G-d forbid that Risley would have to fork up the extra bucks for maintenance. I always found that to be ironic, considering that Risley had a maintenance background.

Enigma makes a point that basic economics impacts wages in the long term. Also, consider the mood of the country. More history. Remember around the late '70s to '80s how times were tough? The mood of the country was turning conservative and people blamed unions for the moribund times. Anti-union sentiment developed. Companies were demanding givebacks from their unions and received them. Union strength eroded. Remember the Continental and United strikes and the infamous "B" scale business? Frank Lorenzo and Carl Icahn? Let me throw in two-pilot airplanes. I may be wrong about this, but ALPA expressed concern that these aircraft would eliminate jobs. The companies loved them because they felt that three-pilot airplanes constituted featherbedding. Then, in the late '80s-early '90s, all businesses scaled back and demanded more work from fewer employees, and more givebacks. Then, whaddaya know? With trimmed-down workforces companies began making money again. Many people would opine that the mood of the country during those years indeed affected wages during those years.

I agree, people who work for less than scale hurt others. But I don't see much you can do about it if the jobs are there and people take them.
 
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