Unions-Yea or Nay?

 - May 15, 2008, 9:54 AM

Next to fighter jocks, helicopter pilots are probably the most iconoclastic flavor of aviators flying today. That’s why the issue of unionization can be so sensitive. Both Petroleum Helicopters Inc. and Air Log have unionized pilot workforces. Both made the transition in widely different ways.

At Air Log, while the move toward unionization wasn’t exactly welcomed by senior management, it was not all that actively resisted either. Organizers of the Office & Professional Employees International Union (OPEU) found the going fairly easy in the late 1990s when a simple majority vote by its pilots selected that Washington, D.C.-based union as the Air Log pilots’ authorized representatives in collective bargaining. Since then, conditions between labor and management have been cordial, with no job actions threatened.

Over at Petroleum Helicopters, the Gulf Coast’s largest single operator with an estimated 47 percent of the market, unionization was not accomplished so amiably, with a strike threatened at one point. Last year PHI’s 500-plus pilots, chafing at the prospect of reductions in both workforce and benefits (stemming from  multi-year fixed-rate contracts based on a continuation of low crude oil prices), appealed to the National Mediation Board (NMB) in Washington for release from NMB restrictions and clearance to strike. Later, both sides found solace short of a walkout under the terms of a three-year probationary period after which a new contract with the pilot’s union added pay and benefits.