A Pilot’s Perspective
For those of you who I haven’t met, my name is Mat Slinghoff. I previously served for one term as MEC Chairman and two terms as President and Principal Officer of Local 1108. In 2004, four of us came together because we were unhappy with our working conditions at Flight Options and decided to form a union organizing committee. Seeking help with our efforts, we initially contacted ALPA. Because they have traditionally only represented 121 pilots they declined to assist us. It was then that we contacted Teamsters Local 1108, which then represented the NetJets Pilots, who graciously agreed to help.
Frank Woelke has reportedly said the following on his anti-union message board:
If we vote the IBT1108 out and then decide we want to Unionize again it is not that hard to do. If 700 pilots with potential dues payments of over a million and a half dollars a year want a Union someone will take our money and help us organize. The IBT would even take us back.
“Not that hard to do?” I can tell you from personal experience that that statement is entirely false. From the time we began organizing to the day we ratified our first contract, over five and a half years had passed. Throughout this process, we witnessed the out of seniority firing of 70 of our brother and sister pilots, three rounds of furloughs and one Great Recession. Throughout this time we fought tooth and nail against a management team hell bent on denying our right to a contract. For the last two years of this time, we dealt largely with the same management team whose mercy Frank now hopes to place us under as at-will employees. Altogether, we spent over one million dollars on this project. We poured our blood sweat and tears into it and in the end we prevailed, with 94% of our members ratifying their first Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was a proud day for all of us because we had done it together.
We now find ourselves confronted with the dark possibility that our union will be decertified and all of our collective work will have been for nothing. I want to draw your attention to a part of this equation that Frank is omitting. Organizing a union and negotiating a first contract is a very expensive undertaking. We had the benefit, initially, of having the assistance of the NetJets pilots and their Local 1108, and after they formed NJASAP and left Local 1108 for us to run, we had the benefit of having access to the funds which remained in the Local’s treasury. We inherited office staff, attorneys and advisors from the NetJets pilots and by then we had some working knowledge of how to run a Local Union.
None of these things would be available to Frank and his cronies should they actually attempt to organize another union post decertification, and I have significant doubt that any established union could be found to help organize at Flexjet after we decertified. RLA contracts are notoriously expensive undertakings and any organization which decided to take us on would know going in that we were the first pilot group in aviation history to be stupid enough to vote out their bargaining representative. The decision to respond to a request from a group of pilots to organize, or not, is a business decision. When I was running the Local, it was a decision I helped make on more than one occasion. We had numerous pilot groups approach us for assistance and we declined to help all but two. In my experience, no established union will be willing to risk their reputation and treasury on a group of pilots who have just decertified their union.
So with that in mind, you might be asking why we wouldn’t just go in-house? Remember, we previously spent over a million dollars on our first contract. The reason an in-house union isn’t a viable option is because we wouldn’t have the funds to undertake it. Frank says, “700 pilots with potential dues payments” will cover the costs. Without a contractual provision stipulating dues collection, unions are forced to rely upon voluntary dues collection. That’s partly how we funded our first contract. That and a million dollars.
Setting aside the cost of bargaining, because of government regulations running a union is an expensive undertaking. I don’t want to bore you with all of the details, but I can remember spending upwards of $11,000 dollars annually on accountants to help us file our required paperwork with Labor Department. Hanging out a shingle and calling yourself a union is cost prohibitive, and any in-house union with a pilot group our size simply could not afford to do it without the help of an established sponsor.
So if there is one thing I hope you will take away from my story, it is that this is a critically important decision and I hope you will hear me when I tell you this. If we vote out our union, we will very likely never see another one on this property. We will be at-will employees with no ability to collectively bargain from that day until we either leave for other employment or retire. What a foolish, foolish thing to do.
Capt. Mat Slingoff