Midterm Election Analysis – An Attack on Pilot Unions?

Published: 10-22-2018
Is the current path of politics putting pilot unions in danger?

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The midterm elections are only a couple weeks away, and at Airline Pilot Central, our top priorities are the wages and safety of airline pilots. There is reason to believe that those two important aspects of the job will be affected by the results of the election.

The Supreme Court

The Court has been in the news a lot recently because of the appointment of controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But the SCOTUS was important to pilots before even this most recent appointment.

In his final year in office, former President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, but Garland was never given a hearing. Instead, the seat was left open for a year until the presidential election in 2016.

This resulted in President Trump seating conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the empty seat. Gorsuch made a decisive vote earlier this year in what is known as the Janus decision.

Janus and Airline Pilots

The Janus decision ruled that the nonmembers of government employee unions are not obliged to pay the labor organizations representing them. The Janus ruling said that a previous 41-year-old precedent had violated the free speech of nonmembers.

No one had been previously forced to join unions, but unions are required by federal law to represent all employees with employers. Because the unions represent and benefit all workers, these fees were seen as all employees paying their fair share for this collective bargaining.

With Janus, public-sector employees have to voluntarily opt into these membership fees. The decision was made with the 5 conservative justices voting against the unions, and the 4 more liberal justices voting for them.

Pilots Need Unions

The argument in favor of these fees is that membership fees are the lifeblood of unions. Without fees, more employees and workers are encouraged to attempt to gain the benefits of unions without paying into them.

Without the fees, the unions are weakened. And with disempowered unions, pilots as a group have less bargaining power when dealing with the massive freight and passenger airlines.

The Airline Pilots Association, International (ALPA) and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) opposed the Janus decision.

Unions have long been a force in arguing for higher wages, increased safety, and better management for pilots.

Tearing Down Worker Protections

While many pilots have great pride in being leaders and running the aircraft, they don’t own the airplanes. Pilots are workers, and a sustained attack on unions and worker protections will inevitably make being an airline pilot a worse job.

The current administration prides itself in tearing up rules and regulations, and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has already been open about going after government programs such as Social Security and Medicare to pay for recent corporate tax cuts.

And with Kavanaugh now seated on the Supreme Court, the conservative court will likely hear cases regarding the constitutionality of more legislation that comes from the conservative Congress.

But this unabashed faith in the free market may not actually be what’s best for pilots. Regardless of who you plan on voting for, you can make your voice heard about the importance of unions in this profession.


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