Pilots Talking Politics
ALPA members speak out about presidential endorsement

Air Line Pilot, September 2004, p.10

In May, ALPA’s Executive Board voted unanimously to endorse Sen. John Kerry for the office of President of the United States. Those union officers who cast their votes in favor of the endorsement knew even then that it would be a controversial action, one that was certain to produce heated debate among line pilots throughout this Association. But having carefully evaluated the candidates, the Executive Board members offered their endorsement, motivated by the best interests of their profession and despite the imminent repercussions.

No matter on what side of the political aisle you stand, your vote in the upcoming 2004 elections will be crucially important in deciding the future course of the nation, as well as the future prospects of airline pilots. Your union leaders have talked about the larger issues and how they will likely affect the industry and your jobs, but this is no substitute for the individual voices of ALPA members. What follows are a few of the comments that have been sent to Air Line Pilot.

Capt. Jim Bonney (DHL) MEC Chairman

The negative backlash from ALPA’s endorsement of John Kerry is predictable, because pilots, even labor union member pilots, tend to be a conservative group. Our incomes, our lifestyles, our values, and our beliefs scream "Republican." Twenty different pilots have 20 different reasons to be angry about the Kerry endorsement, yet none of them has anything to do with trade unionism or the airline industry. The reasons that Bush is bad for the Association and its members are well documented. The resolution to endorse Kerry enumerates them, so I need not get into that here. Kerry, on the other hand, takes the correct positions on issues important to airline pilots. Put simply, the ALPA endorsement is about the profession and trade unionism, not the Second Amendment, reproductive rights, taxes, "family values," or who is going to be tougher on terrorism. It is about preserving and creating high-paying jobs in the United States and exercising our collective rights under the Railway Labor Act.

At some point, each of us (assuming we bother to vote) is going to have to set priorities on the issues we are facing, select a candidate, and vote accordingly. That choice will hopefully be the best fit for our individual criteria. My job and my career are important to me, and I believe that ALPA has a duty to its members to highlight the differences between candidates and endorse the one who supports the piloting profession and trade unionism. We expect the NRA to tell us which candidate is friendly to gun owners. We expect the AARP to tell us which candidate is for Social Security and Medicare reform. We expect clergy members to tell us which candidate stands for "family values." Why do some of us become so filled with indignation when our union tells us who is going to favor our jobs and our profession?

The endorsement was the right thing to do, and Kerry is the right candidate to endorse.

First Officer Gary Schank (Northwest)

I was disappointed to learn that ALPA is endorsing John Kerry for President. Has ALPA already forgotten 9/11, an event in which airline pilots were the first victims?

Almost three years after the attacks, our industry still suffers from the effects of that single event, which thrust our country into World War III.

When a country is at war, one issue is overriding: WAR!

Endorsement of Kerry because he may claim to be more friendly toward labor is seeing the issue with tunnel vision. He and his party are ill-equipped to fight the war on terrorism. While Kerry concerns himself with job and healthcare issues, the enemy will regroup and attack. How secure will our airline careers be if there is another attack against airliners?

We cannot afford to let Kerry relegate our job security and our country’s security to the United Nations. The best thing we airline pilots can do to secure our careers is to elect the candidate who is willing and able to win this war.

ALPA is betting on the wrong horse.

First Officer John Caputo (Atlas Air Cargo), MEC Vice-Chairman

ALPA’s Executive Board took a bold stand in its endorsement of John Kerry and, in doing so, sent a message to the country: The time for using airline pilots and their families as the punching bag for America’s problems is over.

We face a critical time in our careers, our industry, and our country. Airline pilots, as well as millions of other American workers, are trying to keep jobs that sustain their families and provide for their retirement.

The Executive Board’s decision to support John Kerry was based on the belief that four more years of continued assault on our jobs, not to mention our basic freedoms, will put our industry and the national economy in peril.

Each ALPA member has the responsibility to take the time to research the issues and not to just accept the sound bites that come from pundits. Look at the facts. Consider how the positions of each candidate will affect you, your family, and your career. In the end, you will find that the candidate best suited to lead this country is the one who has always stood up for America’s working families: John Kerry.

First Officer Richard Garrison (Continental)

I was disappointed to open my June/July Air Line Pilot and find several pages of pro-Kerry articles, including Kerry’s thank-you note to ALPA for endorsing him. In addition, Capt. Woerth’s pitch for Kerry appeared in his column. Capt Woerth and the Executive Board are, of course, entitled to their opinions regarding candidates, and Capt. Woerth expressed his respect for those of us who will not vote for Kerry.

These things are fine and contribute to the decision-making process in November. What I do find to be offensive is having to read about it in Air Line Pilot. ALPA and Air Line Pilot have clearly stated their position regarding the present administration on numerous occasions throughout the last several years. A Kerry endorsement was expected. However, if Capt. Woerth and the Executive Board were to promote Kerry, which is their prerogative, let them use ALPA-PAC. That organization is not directly supported by my dues. Using Air Line Pilot as a forum to push Kerry puts me in the position of supporting an organization that seeks to defeat my choice for president. That is offensive to me.

I urge ALPA and Air Line Pilot not to use the dues intended for union business to enter the political arena. That’s what the PAC is for.

Professional Flight Engineer Bentley Killmon (United Airlines, Retired)

I have been an environmental activist for many years. But recently, I’ve become involved in labor and political activism as well because I’ve recognized how interrelated many of these issues are. I am deeply concerned about the social, political, and economic implications of multinational corporations exporting jobs from the United States to other countries, and I have participated in rallies and marches in protest of the Bush administration’s antilabor policies.

Last year, I attended a rally at the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas Conference in Miami. I’d gone to peacefully protest against a treaty that I believe would have a detrimental effect on U.S. workers. More than 2,500 police officers were deployed in and around Miami, ostensibly to keep order. After the rally, I had difficulty finding the bus that had brought me and numerous other AFL-CIO workers to Miami.

Because I could not locate my bus and was unable to vacate the area as quickly as law enforcement officers required, I was handcuffed and thrown in jail for almost a full day.

Later, I learned that the Bush administration had authorized this type of law enforcement action anywhere in the United States to conduct preemptive raids on groups preparing to protest the government.

As a retired airline pilot and ALPA member, I believe this election will have a substantial effect on the airline industry. It’s only a matter of time before George Bush, if returned to office, opens the door to foreign airlines, allowing them to serve domestic routes here in the United States. As a citizen, I know firsthand what this election means to our civil rights.

If we hope to defend our basic freedoms and protect our jobs, we need to support a candidate who will stand up for American workers.

I’d like to encourage the airline pilots of this union to become more politically active. As a labor force, we need to close ranks with our fellow AFL-CIO workers and support John Kerry’s candidacy.

Capt. Mark Bryant (Alaska) MEC Chairman

I was raised in a very Republican household. In fact, I never knew that another party existed until well into my teenage years. My father, who is almost 80 years old, recently brought up politics, as he often does. Of course, he sees George Bush as the clear choice in the upcoming presidential election. I asked him why, and he gave me as many reasons as he could think of.

I then asked him what President Bush had done for ALPA or the airline industry in general. My father is one of the most intelligent people I know, but I stumped him with that question. However, the correct answer would have to be "nothing."

Now I’m not saying President Bush hasn’t done some good things, but none of them have had anything to do with protecting the jobs of airline pilots.

"If I were in your shoes, son, I’d hope for Kerry to win," Dad said as we ended our conversation.

Politics is everywhere, whether it’s Boeing pursuing defense contracts, Allied Waste obtaining trash contracts from homeowner associations, Virgin USA getting $15 million in grants from the city of San Francisco and the state of California, or Ogden Aviation landing contracts from Alaska Airlines for ground handling. ALPA, too, is a political organization and must remain so, if we hope to effectively fight cabotage and protect our jobs here in the United States.

Capt. John Blonsick (Delta)

As a second-generation airline pilot, I remember my rEAL [real Eastern] father telling me that airline pilots are their own worst enemies politically. We always vote for the candidates who hurt our profession the most.

Why? Having put that question to hundreds of fellow pilots, the most common answer I receive is "I have other issues I vote for than just my job."

Well, we always had the luxury of having other issues because we worked and were compensated under union-negotiated contracts achieved in a collective-bargaining process under the Railway Labor Act. Take that away, and the luxury of other "high moral" issues rapidly fades into the background of fighting to make ends meet. As many of us are learning in the post 9/11 airline industry, that luxury is fading fast.

In the 2000 election, ALPA sent questionnaires to all four candidates for President asking their positions on issues that directly affect our careers and profession. Three of the four returned the questionnaires. Only one candidate refused to answer any ALPA questions at all. Now, that same candidate will again be asking for your vote. The issues of cabotage, foreign ownership, the collective-bargaining process under the Railway Labor Act protection, the McCain-Lott mandatory arbitration bill, privatization of the ATC system, Air Transportation Stabilization Board loans, and many other crucial legislative issues will challenge us and the next-term President.

Many of us are finding out in the post-9/11 aviation environment that we have few friends in this administration. Decades of hard-won contractual advances are disappearing overnight. This administration’s answer to all airline woes is "cut your employees’ pay and benefits more." One GOP member of Congress has referred to the major airlines as "dinosaurs" that should not be saved from extinction. This government could help troubled airlines by lowering airline taxes—that are higher than so-called "sin" taxes on alcohol and tobacco—and national interest security fees, all of which continue to overload struggling airlines’ weight-and-balance sheet. Rather than provide relief for skyrocketing fuel prices that create high drag loads on airlines trying to fly out of economic stall, the Bush administration chooses to allow the airlines to be buffeted by severe economic turbulence in the form of laissez-faire, antilabor policies.

What is happening in the post 9/11 airline industry is the very reshaping of the U.S. airline labor environment along lines skewed to managements’ benefit. As soon as massive forced reorganization is completed, how long before a reinvigorated McCain-Lott mandatory arbitration bill will be passed to lock those concessions into place for decades? That will mean no more collective bargaining process, no more Railway Labor Act, no more right to strike against intransigent companies, no leverage in the negotiating process whatsoever.

"All politics is local"—so start with yourself and your family and vote outward. If you have a job that allows you to take care of your family, you make America strong. You don’t make America strong by buying into surgically contrived sound bites or political ploys by a group of people sworn to destroy your profession and your union. This is your choice. This is your profession. Defend your profession.