To my Fellow Pilots,
I am not a big poster on any message boards unless really moved to do so, either to correct facts or factual events which has happened. I believe the truth is always the simplest best policy and easy to remember. Please bear with me, this story is lengthy but may answer a lot of questions in many pilots’ minds and jog some memories of others.
I have sat back and read and watched the videos of all the campaign propaganda and it reminds me of a famous quote from George Santayana, a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist. The quote states “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I don’t make this statement lightly because this story and the ending to this story have serious consequences to all of our livelihoods and careers.
I would like to begin by stating I am not speaking for the pilots represented by IBT Local 1108. This is not a propaganda document intended to bash the company or bash the union. This is meant to be a chronological, historical, and factual timeline of events written by a rank and file pilot who lived this story, which due to the circumstances in this particular case, can only be told by me.
My name is Erick (Rick) Maluda. For those who don’t know me, I came from Raytheon TravelAir (RTA) and was hired in Aug 2000. I was one of the three pilots who originally organized Local 1108 at Flight Options, along with a Flight Options pilot and a fellow TravelAir pilot. I have been immersed in this story from the beginning and may have some insight, wisdom and knowledge to share on the subject of the history of unionism at this company. Contrary to what’s been disseminated recently, organizing a union is not an easy task nor a cheap one!
Since 2005, when we started organizing, I have been an Organizer, Steward, Volunteer Coordinator, P2P Committee Member, Executive Board (E-Board) Secretary/Treasurer, E-Board Vice President, Negotiating Committee Chairman, and recently, the Merger Committee Chairman representing the Flight Options pilots. I proudly served this pilot group and this Union for over 10 years because it was the right thing to do. I’m not much for titles but do believe these were necessary to substantiate the validity of my view of history. I believe in protecting pilots, their jobs, their careers and their families. I was brought up to believe it takes a big person to stand up for himself, it takes a bigger person to stand up for others!
I left union office a little over three years ago and have not been very involved since, other than the Merger Committee activity. I was content to remain on the sidelines until I watched some of these videos posted by company and Frank Wolke, on why he is running as the “straw man” to get rid of the union. He may have good intentions in wanting to bring back the “family” style company he may have experienced at the former Flexjet, just as I experienced it at RTA. The unfortunate facts of life are that he now works for a very different type of company run by people with very different ideas of how to treat employees. No matter how hard Frank tries, with or without a union to protect him, the Flexjet “family” and culture he once enjoyed is gone with OneSky in control. The company I worked for was also replaced by one run and operated with an iron fist. A pilot knew his place in the food chain and he better not get out of line, unless he was a friend of management!
Organizing at Our Company: The First Time
So, let’s start from the beginning. In December 2002, the RTA pilots, who enjoyed a “family” style corporate culture, were told they were merging with Flight Options in March 2003 because Raytheon was getting out of the fractional market. Meanwhile, the Flight Options pilots were told Flight Options was buying TravelAir. This was the beginning of management’s campaign to pit one pilot group against the other. (Starting to sound familiar?)
There was a union vote pending at TravelAir during this timeframe and, because of our inexperience, most RTA pilots did not believe we needed a union on the property, myself included. During the first quarter of 2003, Kenn Ricci asked the TravelAir pilots to “give him a chance, give him a year.” He promised, “This was going to be a new day with a better future for all!” We were told we were going to be the highest paid pilots in the industry and “the company was going to be bigger than NetJets.” He has used those same exact words and made those same exact promises in his more recent letters and videos at OneSky.
The RTA pilots bought into his pitch and wanted to believe Flight Options was going to be a great place to work. The vote was unsuccessful and we all remained “at will” employees. The TravelAir pilots, who were told “Nothing was going to change for the pilots, nothing at all. Pilots would hardly notice the difference.” (sound familiar yet?)
So, how did it work out? First of all, there would be change; we all knew that. It was a different company with different policies, procedures and different leadership. Changes soon came, and they weren’t for the better. Flight Options started putting TravelAir pilots through company “indoctrination,” which is where the first signs of trouble began.
The pilots who had attempted to organize TravelAir pilots were terminated outright. They were told they did not fit the culture. They had to go to court to protect their rights. . Most recently, history repeated itself when Flexjet pilots, involved in the organizing effort, were terminated. This time, there was a union on the property and these pilots were returned to duty after the company again found itself in federal court facing a judge.
Flight Options Merger: 2002
Shortly after the TravelAir, RTA, Flight Options merger was finalized, all of the company personnel from Wichita were offered the option to move to Cleveland or lose their job, since operations were now going to be handled out of Cleveland. (Sort of like what happened at Waterview). Fear and intimidation was purposely spread throughout the ranks. RTA pilots were given arbitrary seniority numbers by management, which were, on average, 70 numbers lower than Flight Options pilots who were hired on the same day. Reality began to set in at a high rate of speed.
At the time of the merger, there were 488 RTA pilots and 344 Flight Options pilots. I was among a large number of RTA Beechjet Captains who were downgraded to First Officers. Not one single Flight Options Captain was displaced or lost pay while the RTA pilots were pay frozen for over 3.5 years. Once downgraded, RTA pilots were told, “You’re an SIC now and only PIC’s are allowed to call in and speak to dispatch.” RTA pilots quickly learned this was a very different kind of “family” culture compared to where they came from! They were given clear guidance to get in line, get out, or get fired.
Seniority had really never been followed at Flight Options since its existence. Pilots were routinely upgraded, hired straight into larger aircraft and promoted out of seniority. The quickest path to the left seat was with favoritism with senior management. There was a “slide to parity” pay scale that punished a pilot for upgrading—his pay was frozen at his current SIC pay and, since he was now a first year Captain, it stayed there until Captain pay caught up over time, which averaged about three years.
Pilots believed there was a large amount of pilot pushing during the post-merger, pre-union days to fly aircraft with maintenance issues. Pilots also talked about being constantly pushed to go over 14 hour duty days to patch scheduling failures. There was no fatigue policy! Travel home on Day-8 was not considered Duty. There were hotel phone calls at 3 am from dispatch informing pilots of trip changes departing at 6 am, and you better not be late. If the pilot did not answer the phone or report for duty, the company had his flying partner or hotel staff go bang on his hotel door until the pilot responded. There was no company credit card to charge meals, cars or hotels. A pilot had to use their own personal card and get reimbursed sometimes months later for company expenses. There was a Senior Flight Officer (SFO) program which came with special pay and benefits. This was a special pilot’s club where a pilot had to write an essay and be voted in by the members of the SFO club. Folks, these are sad but true factual events!
The RTA pilots had a 6-on, 4-off schedule which immediately changed to an 8-on, 7-off schedule, which was not biddable, but assigned by the company. Also assigned was a tail number to a specific aircraft and a partner of management’s choosing. This was the only schedule and you were on it for life! Vacations were biddable, but pilots were not allowed to take them. Pilots sometimes went in excess of three years without being allowed to use their banked PTO hours to take a vacation with their families.
It was a different pilot market back then (and the current one won’t last forever). A pilot knew he was easily replaceable and with not a lot of job options. The company also had a new and a used fleet to keep the two pilot groups segregated. (Sound familiar?) The new fleets were the RTA Hawkers, Beechjets and King Airs; the used fleet was the other 10 aircraft types that were on the property at Flight Options. Our flying increased dramatically because RTA had newer aircraft, so all of a sudden, the owners who bought used aircraft shares at Flight Options were flying in new aircraft. Needless to say, our RTA aircraft appearance and maintenance reliability changed drastically! The pilots could no longer offer the service they once did; it became more like taxi than a luxury limo experience. I know this sounds familiar now!
Management’s strategy was to keep the pilots fighting amongst themselves so they could never get organized and unified. It was a very successful plan. All of this was happening under the exact same management leadership that controls Flexjet today. Morale was very low at this time. Pilots working for the same company would not speak to each other. Early on, one could identify which company a pilot had previously worked for by the pocket flaps on their pilot shirt: RTA pilots had flaps while Flight Options pilots did not. Much like when the uniforms changed to grey, Flex pilots had wings and FLOPS pilots did not. There were many pilots called to Cleveland over small infractions to be scolded, belittled or fired. The new “family” culture Kenn promised and painted was not the picture we experienced.
The Pilot Taskforce
During the 2003-2004 time period, I was asked by the company’s COO to co-chair a company appointed Taskforce. This committee was to look at all the issues coming out of the merger, especially the ones pilots complained about. These issues included seniority, pay inequality, vacation days, sick days, schedules and uniforms. However, the Taskforce came to realize it was designed to be a sounding board for the pilots so they had someone to complain to but no authority or support from management. Essentially, the pilots had been sold a bill of goods by management under false pretenses. The Taskforce was a toothless tiger as management intended it to be.
Mr. Ricci Leaves
It was also during 2004, when Raytheon and Kenn parted ways. Details are vague, but Raytheon replaced him with John Nahill, a long time Raytheon employee in charge of mergers and acquisitions. Word was that Nahill had brokered the deal of RTA and Flight Options, which had turned into a mess, and he had to clean it up.
CEO Nahill was not very interested in the Taskforce and our ideas. However, he flew the entire committee to Fort Lauderdale and agreed to hear one of our pay proposals. He quickly brushed off our ideas and informed us of his new idea of a large cabin aircraft, the Legacy 600. He told us of how it could be flown for the same operating cost as a Beechjet, but the profit margin was triple. When asked who was going to fly this new aircraft, he informed us he was going to hire non-seniority list contract pilots. The committee expressed concerns and formally requested he not take these actions. We tried to explain all the issues currently troubling the pilots. Predictably, the Taskforce was ignored and his plans continued as announced because we didn’t have a CBA with scope protections.
In the fall of 2004, the Taskforce concluded that working with management was futile, non-effective and a waste of our time and effort. So, we agreed to disband and went back to regular line flying.
In February 2005, a Flight Options Captain who worked with me on the Taskforce contacted me and asked me to help him start a union organizing drive to give us the power to collectively bargain for change at Flight Options. We had developed a trust and a bond that bridged the gap that existed between the two pilot groups. He explained he had talked to some NetJets pilots and they were willing to help us.
We recognized all the unjust and serious issues still outstanding from the former management, which had been in place for years at Flight Options. We knew we could not move forward as a unified pilot group if the animosity between both groups remained. We began to organize and recruit. One of the first things we did was to get a message board up and running, which was where we found another TravelAir Captain to join our committee. The three of us continued to recruit and build trust in both pilot groups, breaking down the walls between the two sides. However, everyone remained fearful of management, because they were firing pilots to spread panic and send a message to the rank and file.
It wasn’t too many months before Nahill separated from Raytheon and Raytheon replaced him with a CEO that came out of the Part 121 world. This new CEO came in with a new agenda, directed by mother Raytheon. He shrank the fleets from 12 to 4, which meant both pilot groups were now training and flying together. It wasn’t until he changed the domicile policy, which negatively affected a very large group of pilots, that there was a real fear in everyone’s mind. A large number of pilots are in our specialized segment of commercial aviation due solely to domicile policies that allow them to live where they want, with a set schedule. Quite frankly, it’s one of the biggest attractions compared to a job at the airlines or a typical corporate gig. Who or what would be next? This, along with the sub par industry wages, gave us the support and reasons we needed to call for a vote.
The new CEO hired a big law firm along with a new V.P. of Operations, a pilot manager who had crossed the Eastern Pilots’ picket line. They also hired a new V.P. of Human Resources. Their job was to try to discourage the pilots from voting in a union. The new V.P. began immediately sending “let’s get back to the family” emails and videos, much like what we seeing today coming from Weiss, Handschuch and, Frank. These people did not know the background and history of Kenn and this Company, any more then than Weiss, Handshuch and Woelke do now. They did what they were told to do.
Union Wins Right to Bargain
Nonetheless, management continued to take from the pilots and created more and more resentment among the rank-and-file. A representation vote was called for in May 2006. At that time, company had 795 pilots who were eligible to vote; the vote passed by 67%. The union started bargaining with the company the next month.
You may have heard through multiple communications and videos the statement that the union was not started while Kenn and current management team was here. THAT IS A FALSE STATEMENT. The organizing drive was started in February 2005 directly in response to the current leadership’s dictatorship-style management. However, technically, in 2006 when the union had the vote for representation, he was not CEO, as he had been removed and replaced at that time. Which brings up the huge factor that has not been highlighted: In business, CEO’s, Chairman of boards, and board members are replaced and companies are bought, and sold all the time! Without a contract, a pilot has no guarantee of any working conditions, pay, benefits, schedule, retirement, or any other quality of life issue we live day to day. All that can change with a blink of an email! Since Aug 2000, I have seen five CEO’s come and go. I have flown for three different companies, and four if OneSky is included. Ask yourself, what would happen to you tomorrow if Kenn sold the company or buys a new company and decides he likes that one more than Flexjet, just like he’s done to other pilots in the past? Point being, Aviation is a very dynamic changing environment with mergers and acquisitions. No CBA means no guarantee that we will have job after the next big business deal that we have no control over. Union contracts and the job rights in them remain constant and protected, and cant’ be changed until they are renegotiated!
Bargaining went slow for obvious reasons. The company negotiated the bare minimum required by law, much like what has been experienced during the bargaining over the past three years. Progress was very, very slow. And there was the recession. Frustrations levels were high on both sides and pilot morale was low. The new CEO instituted “productivity” counselling for pilots who were not flying enough live legs. Pilots were blamed for everything and were called on the carpet for anything by management. The company terminated 70 pilots out of seniority. The recession raged on and furloughs soon followed. By the time the pilots got to vote on a contract, it was the spring of 2010 and the seniority list was down to 370 active pilots. The company had lost approximately 600 pilots from 2006-2010 due to a combination of furloughs, attrition, and the economy. Mat Slinghoff, who was the president of Local 1108 at the time, and I met personally with Kenn in Philadelphia to encourage to work with us rather than against the pilots. He promised to get the contract done in 6 months. We only saw two times after that and took two years.
Nonetheless, we eventually put a first, brand new contract in place. It was a huge victory for pilots. Without their support, we could not have done it. The 70 terminated pilots also returned to work. The pay and rules in the new C BA weren’t all that we had hoped for, but nobody wanted the recession either. What we achieved was the result of very hard bargaining by the union to get the most we could get for pilots. And what ended up in the contract couldn’t be cut by management. No more slides to parity or poverty. It went all the way to the NMB offices in Washington, DC before it finally got done. The new contract didn’t solve everything, far from it, but we secured some fundamental rights and protections and a foundation to build on.
The Bottom Line
As an employee, all I ever wanted was for this company to grow and be as successful as possible, while providing me with a safe, respectful and rewarding place to work. I am sure every other pilot feels the same. I want to believe in the “family” concept that is being used in the current anti-union propaganda. However, like many things we wish for, it’s just not reality and such ideas are, indeed, generally fabricated. We need a union to protect our own families.
Today, I see the same things I witnessed during the RTA and Flight Options merger, especially pilots pitted against each other; management stoking unnecessary divisions; promises about “family” style management if we give management another chance; and the list goes on and on. The Union did not create these problems. It’s the same strategy managers used against us in the past. —This time they did their best to hold all of us down and even take back some of our past gains in the Flight Options CBA through the positions they took in the MCBA negotiations and arbitration. And then they blamed the union when the arbitrator accepted their proposals, that they knew would disadvantage Flexjet and Flight Options pilots.
I’m proud that many of our protections and provisions were retained in the MCBA. If the pilots follow Frank into a desert, like the “straw man” he is, the MCBA will cease to exist. Without that contract, the company can change anything and everything they want with the blink of an email. Pay, schedules, vacations, domiciles, insurance, work rules, contact policy, job protection, travel benefits, etc., all are up for grabs and can go away one minute after the vote is certified.
From a purely business, profit oriented perspective, you can’t blame management for trying to remove the union, which represents a very large obstacle to their unilateral and total control of the pilots. It’s much easier to run a workplace like a dictatorship where employees must accept everything that comes down from the leadership rather than one where the employees have a voice and some measure of power and protections. There are many successful aviation carriers with unions on the property, so we don’t have to give ours up for the company to be successful.
Business is conducted with contracts. It is the only way a company can be guaranteed to receive what it is owed and the customer can receive the agreed upon goods. OneSky has contracts covering every aspect of its business: owner contracts; aircraft contracts; maintenance contracts; fuel contracts; hotel contracts; airline contracts; rental car contracts; catering vendor contracts; credit card contracts; and, even senior managers have contracts. Why would management think it can operate without a contract with one of the biggest expenses, labor- ? Would they ask any other contract holders to just do business on their faith and good will? We can bargain for a contract that works best for us if we do it collectively, rather than individually, and that’s why they want to get rid of the union.
When all the other bargaining is complete for all the other contracts in the business, if the company cannot financially hold up their end of the bargain, they can take from the people who do not have a legal binding contract to protect their interest—the non-union employees. Sometimes they take just because these employees are helpless to stop them. But, ultimately, non-union employees are the bank of last resort. That’s what we are to them without a union.
A labor contract is a legally binding document, which can be upheld in a court of law, stating you have the legal right to say NO when appropriate without being terminated for doing so: “No, I won’t fly your aircraft when tired, hungry, sick or any other condition I determine unsafe!” All the sections within a contract such as scope, benefits, schedules, pay, training rules, etc., are all just icing on the cake.
I sincerely hope this story shed some light on some of the dark times of this company’s history! Every single pilot should vote based on knowledge, not rumor, or fiction when casting their ballot. Know the history of the company. Know what has been done in the past and what can be done in the future. Try not to let history repeat itself. If there is a positive outcome, request management to work with your representatives, not against them, to build this company into the most successful company it can be. Together, with a strong union, and strong labor management relationship, we can make this the company all pilots will want to fly for and retire from!