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A Year Unlike Any Other

When 2020 began, APA was finalizing plans for what became the largest informational picketing event in the union’s history, with more than 700 pilots gathering at DFW on Jan. 29 to signal their support for APA’s Section 6 bargaining goals. We simultaneously conducted the union’s first-ever virtual picket, enabling many more members to participate from afar.

The year would end with Congress approving an extension of the Payroll Support Program and American Airlines’ recall of 1,247 pilots who were furloughed beginning on Oct. 1. What happened in between those two dramatically different events was without precedent in our industry’s history.

On Jan. 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China in light of the COVID-19 virus. On Jan. 30, APA advised our pilots to cease flight operations between the United States and China and announced we had filed a lawsuit seeking to halt all American Airlines service between the two countries. Management had been drawing down China flying when President Trump issued a proclamation on Jan. 31 barring foreign nationals from entering the United States via China, which decided the issue for us.

Throughout February, we watched with deepening concern as the virus began to spread around the world. Recognizing that our working agreement did not adequately address many of the issues associated with the rapidly expanding crisis, APA engaged management to develop a fact-based protocol focusing on risk awareness, prevention, consequence management, and operations. We also sought to mitigate the negative impact on our pilots of a drastically reduced flying schedule and an uncertain future. 

In early March, APA presented management with a COVID-19 Pilot Protection Term Sheet. While management was initially unreceptive, APA persisted, and our two parties inked Letter of Agreement 20-001 on March 15. This LOA led the industry by providing pay protection to pilots directly affected by the virus, and giving many the ability to take personal leaves of varying lengths.

APA also mustered every available resource to enable membership communication with lawmakers and lobbied successfully for the original CARES Act, reinforcing how labor and management were aligned on the vitally important relief package. We coordinated our efforts with all of the other labor groups at American Airlines and with other pilot groups under the ALPA, SWAPA, and CAPA banners. We are grateful for the outcome, which resulted in the creation of the Payroll Support Program, providing our industry with a vital lifeline.

Frustrated by management’s lack of progress on COVID-19 testing for our pilots, APA’s Aeromedical Committee secured a nationwide testing network that became operational by the end of April. Your union leadership also insisted on forming protocol task forces, which resulted in APA volunteers on the company’s Health Task Force and Aircraft Cleaning Working Group. APA volunteers created an Aircraft Sanitation Observer Report to ensure we stay abreast of conditions our pilots are encountering. In addition, APA pushed for uniform policies regarding the use of face masks, seating density, aircraft and facilities cleaning, screening for airline workers and passengers, and contact tracing. We emphasized the need for these measures to prevent the spread of the virus, protect our passengers, preserve our industry’s national security and supply chain roles, and begin restoring public confidence in flying again. As always, our first priority has been making flying as safe as possible for our crews and passengers. This top priority is consistent with our commitment “to safeguard with ceaseless vigilance, the safety of scheduled air transportation in recognition of the high degree of public trust, confidence and responsibility placed on the members,” as codified in the APA Constitution and Bylaws.

On July 15, management announced it would begin issuing Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act letters to as many as 2,500 pilots, confirming that a first wave of affected employees would likely be furloughed beginning on Oct. 1, with more to follow. On Aug. 3, the APA Board of Directors approved three Letters of Agreement designed to mitigate furloughs and address furlough-related issues.

Management proceeded to furlough pilots, flight attendants, and other employees in three waves starting Oct. 1. Throughout this period, APA participated in a broad-based effort to urge lawmakers to renew the Payroll Support Program, emphasizing the need for our nation’s airlines to be ready to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they became available. Our membership contributed to this effort, sending 100,000-plus emails to members of Congress — so many messages, in fact, that lawmakers advised our Government Affairs Committee that our message had been received, loud and clear.

For the first time in quite a while, we saw cause for optimism during the month of December, despite the month’s rough start with the third group of furloughs. On Dec. 11, the Food and Drug Administration issued its first Emergency Use Authorization for a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19. APA responded by creating a task force dedicated to addressing the numerous issues involved with vaccination of our membership, including the choice not to receive the vaccine. On Dec. 22, Congress approved a $900 billion pandemic relief package that includes $15 billion for our nation’s airlines, making it possible for us to welcome our furloughed brothers and sisters back to American Airlines. President Trump signed the bill on Dec. 27, and on Dec. 28, the APA Board of Directors voted to approve Letter of Agreement 20-008. During that same voting conference call, the APA Board also voted to suspend the .5% dues assessment for the Furlough Medical Fund that was created in September to cover furloughed pilots’ medical premiums.

While myriad issues related to COVID-19 understandably occupied much of our attention, we also dedicated resources to other key initiatives, including the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX after its 20-month grounding. APA provided extensive line pilot input into the training program and the aircraft’s systems modifications. We were also involved in reforming the recertification process itself to ensure better communication between the manufacturer, regulator, and operator.

Membership polling resumed this month to help ensure your APA leadership has an accurate and current understanding of member attitudes and preferences. In preparation for the polling, the Negotiating Committee produced a new edition of The Negotiating Journal, providing a comprehensive year in review. Also, APA launched a new podcast titled “Five By Five,” generating positive early reviews from the membership.

Throughout the year, the responsibility we share with American Airlines management to make and maintain agreements has remained constant. APA and management must work together to continue addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19, and we must also work to settle any unresolved disputes that arise. The APA Constitution and Bylaws stipulate that APA is “to establish and to exercise the right of collective bargaining for the purpose of making and maintaining employment agreements covering rates of pay, rules, and working conditions for the members of the APA and to settle promptly disputes and grievances which may arise between such members and their employer.”

Looking ahead to 2021, I would like to once again invoke our union’s governing documents. The APA Policy Manual articulates our vision of a “collaborative labor/management relationship that is recognized in the industry as the model to emulate.” As I have noted previously, several LOAs enacted this year, culminating with LOA 20-008, provide excellent examples of what APA and management can accomplish by working together. APA stands ready to do its part to help bring about a brighter future for our pilots and American Airlines.

As APA members, we also need to focus on coming together as a pilot group to navigate the turbulence the coming months will undoubtedly bring. The many challenges 2020 brought with it, due to the pandemic and resulting devastating impact it had on our industry, clearly tested our ability to stay unified — and unity is probably the most critical component of a successful union. To that end, I am announcing the creation of a new ad hoc committee designed to help reinforce our foundation of solidarity among our many diverse members, and to help promote a common understanding of what it means to be a member of the APA family. The Inclusion and Diversity Ad Hoc Committee will be responsible for proactively advocating for workplace equality for all pilots with the intent of fostering an “Everyone Culture,” where all pilots can safely perform their craft in a thriving and empowering environment by supporting and promoting inclusion, diversity, equality, and unity.

Captains Ray Burkett and Linda Wackerman will chair this important committee, which will take the place of the Workplace Culture Ad Hoc Committee with a broadened role and greater visibility. It will help us meet our union’s many objectives by working to ensure that APA members recognize we are one union composed of pilots from diverse professional and personal backgrounds, seniority numbers, generations, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, and disabilities. It is an acknowledgement of the need to embrace diversity within our ranks, respecting and valuing all members as union brothers and sisters, to better accomplish our mission of protecting the individual and collective rights of all the members of the APA and to promote their professional interests.

In closing, I would like to put the activities of this year in perspective: It was the morning of Jan. 29, 2020 — 337 days ago today, and the same day of our largest-ever picket event — that I directed APA Legal to draft litigation to suspend all China flying in the face of the uncertainties surrounding the emerging virus, at a time when few viewed the issue with concern. That means that COVID-19-related matters have demanded a considerable amount — if not most — of your leadership’s attention for 92 percent of 2020. Yet our day-to-day business has continued uninterrupted, even if some projects and goals were delayed. For 2021, indications are that the crisis will begin to subside, even if the pandemic gets worse before getting better. Your union has thus far survived the worst and most prolonged crisis in the history of commercial aviation and will be well-positioned to thrive in the aftermath. The resilience and professionalism of our membership is unmatched throughout this industry.

I would like to wish you and your loved ones the very best for 2021. Thank you for all you do to make us proud and for the opportunity to serve as your union president alongside my fellow APA National Officers, Board of Directors, and many amazing volunteers and staff members. With your continued support, we will endure and emerge stronger than ever.

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