Twice in the past, the pilots of JetBlue have turned down proposals to unionize. That changed today when seventy-one percent of those voting, cast ballots to join the Air Line Pilots Association. With this decision they get the benefit of ALPA’s sophisticated negotiators and its 70 years of experience with issues unique to this profession. They also get Lee Moak, the union boss who has learned to be a statesman while remaining, as he put it, “champion of the common pilot.”
Sure, the two and a half thousand pilots of the low cost carrier are concerned about basic issues of pay, retirement and protection of jobs and seniority should the airline someday merge with another carrier. Moak touched on all that. But he revels when he talks about another, larger theme; airlines in America are in a time of global transition. The companies and their employees need to work together if they are going to survive the tough times ahead.
"Ninety five percent of all the issues that the pilot profession is dealing with, we have in common," Moak told reporters. Improving pay and working conditions is one thing, equally important is to "combine our resources to affect government policy so our industry can compete in what is a competitive global economic environment."
|ALPA's Lee Moak|
Over the past few years, that's meant the union has joined with individual airlines and the industry trade association, Airlines 4 America in campaigning against unfair international competition like Norwegian's application for a U.S. Air Operators Certificate.
ALPA joins American carriers in opposing the pre-clearance program at Abu Dhabi airport that will give U.A.E. airline Etihad an advantage because its customers will be able to skip immigration lines on arrival to U.S. airports, while the customers of American carriers wait in long lines and steam.
Open skies, airport security, U.S. government backed loans for airliner purchases are some of the other issues that bore the pants off most people but have serious consequences in the marketplace.
Call me Polly-anna, but I think this is a good thing. JetBlue's CEO DaveBarger doesn't seem to agree. In a churlish response the normally good-natured airline issued one simple statement from Barger.
"The National Mediation Board will authorize ALPA as the representative body for JetBlue pilots, and then both JetBlue and ALPA will organize negotiating committees." If Barger was trying to convey, "I'm pissed," well, mission accomplished.
Barger should get a grip on his not-so-inner petulant child by taking a lesson from Moak who, magnanimous in victory, summed it all up this way.
"We have the utmost respect for JetBlue's executive team and JetBlue's culture and enterprise going forward. We're going to work very well together and we are looking forward to it."
Maybe that’s what JetBlue’s pilots saw that convinced them this time was the right time to be part of something bigger.