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Alaska Airlines Pilots Union Shares Negotiations Update

Date: September 11, 2022

Joe Kunzler (Simple Flying)

A September 9, 2022 podcast by the Alaska Airlines’ Pilots’ MEC of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) gives new hope not just to the pilots, but the passengers and employees who depend on Alaska Airlines having labor peace. But as Capt. Will McQuillen said as Chairman of the Alaska Airlines ALPA Master Executive Council the contract is not ready for approval because, in his words on the podcast, “We've had that observation… about how everything threads and everything touches each other piece” so everything needs to be correct or nothing in any potential tentative agreement (TA) is.

“What we've done in the scheduling arena is change”

Regular Simple Flying readers recognize pilot fatigue and its primary originator scheduling are a recurrent theme in our coverage of US pilots’ unions’ struggles. For instance, scheduling issues in April led to historic levels of cancellations. Furthermore, when the Alaska Airlines pilots voted to authorize a strike if necessary, McQuillen explained:

For years, we have been working toward a market-based contract with reasonable solutions that address work rules, scheduling flexibility, and career-security issues that pilots at other companies enjoy, not a strike. … It's in the hands of scheduling, when we have record reassignments happening every month, to the point where nobody has any control over their life.

As such, scheduling has been a prime focus for the Alaska Airlines Pilots negotiating team. Capt. McQuillen wants the contract to do what the pilots want around scheduling and flexibility. To Negotiating Chairman Chris Gruner, the economics are outstanding but must work together with the new scheduling system to be unveiled.

But ultimately, as Capt. McQuillen explained;

“What we've done in the scheduling arena is change. I mean, there's a lot of differences, and you've got to get them right.”

McQuillen went on to explain that it’s like buying a car or airplane to get the right options and “engine” as “you can’t change those out later” so scheduling is “critically important”. One who's read ongoing coverage about airline cancellations such as when ALPA spoke up about them should be tuning in.

Market rate pay is important to retain talented pilots like this Alaska Airlines pilot photographed here and grow an airline. Photo: Alaska Airlines

First, as recently reported, Alaska Airlines’ regional subsidiary Horizon Air has arrived at a tentative agreement to almost double pilots’ pay and address pilot fatigue. For Capt. McQuillen, this was about both parties, “Simply had to bring themselves to market because the landscape in the regional industry has changed dramatically.” New pay rates for regional pilots in 2022 are a recurring theme, such as with Envoy Air & Piedmont Airlines.

A theme that also arose during the recent Alaska Airlines earnings call where when Jamie Baker of JPMorgan asked Alaska Airlines for comment on ongoing pilot negotiations, the airline’s Executive Vice President Finance and Chief Financial Officer Shane Tackett responded,

With our pilots, we're looking forward to getting a TA with them as soon as we can. Yeah, we understand the economic impact on the business, and it's totally fine. Our employees across both companies need to be at market. And that's where we're ultimately going to take, take folks.

Tentative agreement for ratification soon?

For the pilots’ union negotiating chairman Gruner, “We've narrowed the remaining open items down to just a few manageable issues. And so we'll go back at it with the company next week.” With the MEC having just concluded new polling of the pilot members; the negotiators seem ready to conclude a comprehensive new contract any day this week.

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