Flight Options pilots vote for union backing

 - September 20, 2006, 10:43 AM

Last month the Flight Options pilots overwhelmingly voted for union representation under International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 1108. According to the National Mediation Board, which conducted the election, 67 percent of the 795 eligible line pilots at the fractional provider were in favor of the union. Local 1108 also represents the pilots at competing fractional provider NetJets.

A previous union drive in January 2002 failed at fractional provider Raytheon Travel Air, which merged one month later with Flight Options. Five pilots–Thomas Bowden, William Brunet, Thomas Jeter, William Tumlin and David Yeager–subsequently sued Raytheon and Flight Options, claiming they were fired in retaliation for trying to organize the pilots. Raytheon and Flight Options denied the allegations, and the companies and pilots reached a settlement–believed to be substantial–in 2004.

After the results were announced on March 2, the Flight Options organizing committee (FOOC) said it was “eagerly look[ing] forward to the hard work ahead that will be required to secure our first contract.” The pilots seek a contract with wages, benefits and working conditions comparable to industry standards, along with enhancements to existing job security and workers’ protections.

Not surprisingly, Flight Options management was “disappointed by our pilots’ decision to be represented by the Teamsters, [though] the company respects the pilots’ right to choose a representative as their bargaining agent.” In an announcement to employees days after the vote, Flight Options CEO Michael Scheeringa lamented that individual pilots can no longer talk with management about “pay, benefits or other terms of employment.” However, he pledged to “bargain with the Teamsters in good faith in an attempt to reach an agreement.”

On March 22, the IBT Local 1108 executive board voted to recognize the interim leadership for the Flight Options pilots. The board subsequently submitted a letter to Flight Options management authorizing five members of the FOOC–Bill Hart, Mat Slinghoff, Mike Groner, Rick Maluda and Rick Kata–to serve as the pilots’ steward leadership council. They are now the legal union representatives for Flight Options pilots until permanent leadership elections can take place later this year.

“This initial step will allow our pilots to begin to see some of the immediate benefits our union can provide as a direct result of the efforts of volunteer pilots serving on various committees,” the Flight Options pilot leaders said. “Some of these committees would be safety, professional standards, hotel and negotiations. We would expect the company’s management to recognize these committees and begin to work with them in a positive and cooperative manner.”

To move forward on an initial contract, Local 1108 has contracted the Wilson Center for Public Research to survey the Flight Options pilots about their expectations for pay, quality of life and work-rule issues. At press time, the Wilson Center was beginning telephone polling of the group. The results from this survey will be used in an “opening letter” to the company, which formally starts the negotiation process.

The Flight Options pilot leaders and negotiating committee will then set up meetings with company management to hammer out a contract. The amount of time to secure such an agreement is an unknown and could span anywhere from a couple of months to several years.

“The period of time involved will depend upon our collective resolve,” noted the union leaders, “and how eager the company’s management is to be cooperative with and respectful of the pilot group.”