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CAL VP of FLT OPS Fred Abbott Fires Shot - Hits Own Foot

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Well-known member
Sep 10, 2005
ALPA: The Pilots Union
[cid:[email protected]]

“I am concerned that some recent communications from a minority of pilots have been crafted with the expressed and avowed intent of moving us away from what has proved to be a mutually beneficial relationship over the past 15 years. — Captain Fred Abbott in the July 2009 issue of the Flight Operations Update.

Thank you, Captain Abbott, for your solid endorsement of our LC 170 communications. We intend to use every means at our disposal, including our communications program, to move as far away as possible from this “mutually beneficial relationship” with management.There is a standing joke that circulates among our pilots: “I’ve had all the dignity and respect I can stand.” Perhaps we should add to it: “I’ve had all the mutually beneficial relationships with management I can stand, too.

”This week’s Magenta Line is late for a reason. We knew our lead item was going to break this week and we wanted to be able to fully report on it. Thanks for your understanding and patience.

Due to the special MEC meeting next week, there will be no Magenta Line on Wednesday. We will get it out as quickly as we possibly can once we have digested the week’s events.

Item 1: The Scarlet Letters

The Scarlet Letters are FUPM and, although we wear them, they do not shame us, they shame the management team whose avarice has forced them upon us.Most of us are familiar with the Lauren Barra-Berzon case. Around her wrist she wore a scarlet bracelet—and her Captain that day didn’t like it. He confronted her in the cockpit as she was performing her pre-flight duties. And her story begins.

Management got involved, of course—assistant chief pilot Mike Bowers. While the facts were clear at the time, they have since been altered, reshaped, and extruded from the EWR chief pilot’s office in the form of a letter Friday from Captain Bowers to First Officer Barra-Berzon.

Captain Bowers’ letter, sounding suspiciously as if it came from some other level of flight operations management, has reshaped “the facts” a bit—what we read in this letter is not what occurred but what management wished had occurred. Captain Bowers insists that First Officer Barra-Berzon removed herself from the trip and refused to fly another to replace it. He hints at additional insubordination, as though First Officer Barra-Berzon just couldn’t be bothered to fly that day and that somehow she alone was responsible for the petty squabble that resulted.When she left the cockpit in search of Bowers, she found him in the terminal heading her way. Captain Bowers told her that she had not been removed from the trip—Bowers said he was going to try to “work on the issue”. Bowers had a 50-50 chance of getting it right—but chose the zero-percent option instead.

Our union was involved in this from almost the first moment—she called a union representative shortly after her removal from the airplane—and what actually happened was, and is today, fresh in their minds.

A hearing was held a couple of weeks after the incident in Bowers’ office and the letter generated by management as a result was delivered Friday. Management cut First Officer Barra-Berzon loose and laid the responsibility on her and in her seat on the right side of the airplane. Their story is that it was her who caused the problem by refusing “an unusual request from the Captain” and “escalated what was a relatively minor conflict into a much larger issue”—and that she should lose her pay for the trip. And that is what management has ordered. It does not matter that precedence has been broken just for First Officer Barra-Berzon; two prior cases very similar to this one were resolved in favor of the First Officers.

The difference in First Officer Barra-Berzon’s case is that neither of these other cases involved the scarlet bracelet.Management likes to send signals—when they’re not all-out trampling on us. The signal here is that Captains who see things management’s way and remove the scarlet bracelets from their cockpits will be backed by the full bad-faith and poor credit of the chief pilot’s office. And any recalcitrant First Officer will be ordered to Houston to sit through a useless “mediated debrief by the Human Factors team” to “help” them “cope with situations such as this in the future”.

It’s a very Orwellian concept—punish the victim; maybe she won’t report it next time.First Officer Barra-Berzon is a fighter. So are her EWR representatives. If she chooses to continue the fight she will be backed by the full weight of ALPA and her EWR representatives. Tyranny never stands for long; the point is always reached when the victims get tired of holding that status.The battle is on, we have joined, and we will win.
Item 2: Fred Fires Shot, Hits Own Foot

We’ve taken so many shots at poor Captain Abbott, we suppose it was only a matter of time before he pulled out his BB gun and tried to return fire—and shot himself squarely in the foot.

In this month’s Flight Operations Update, Fred’s column, “Comm 1 with Captain Abbott” reminds us just how good we have it here and that the real problem in management/pilot relations is not them—but us—your EWR reps and, by extension,everyone who voted for us. Fred waxes poetic about the love-fest we’ve been living the past 15 years under his kind-hearted guidance and gives us the real reason for the success of our relations with management—him.

Captain Fred does not refer to us by name—he calls us “a minority of pilots”—and weeps for the course we’ve set—“the expressed and avowed intent of moving us away from what has proved to be a mutually beneficial relationship”. Many of us who have, in the past, been involved in one or more of these “mutually beneficial relationships” have mostly seen them end in “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”.

We surely don’t envy Captain Abbott. It’s hard to stand on the dock and watch your ship sail without you—especially when it was your own crew who put you ashore. In many ways, Captain Abbott reminds us of Captain Phillip Francis Queeg from “The Caine Mutiny”—except that Captain Queeg only steamed over his own tow-line once; Captain Abbott has been steaming over ours for 15 years. There are also the obvious parallels with “The Mutiny on the Bounty” but we don’t think Commodore Abbott has one of those funky sideways hats. Well—maybe.

Now, there’s a big difference between poor situational awareness and plain unconsciousness— that state where you are blissfully unmindful of anything going on around you—and Captain Abbott has mastered this Zen-like state. Fred’s koan: “What is the sound of 5,000 discontented pilots?” His answer: “Who cares?”

Captain Abbott continues to whine that “our interests are more shared than opposed” and then tries to deflect our anger from Continental management to Delta Airlines because, hey, they’re the real enemy. Nice try, Fred. He continues by adding that he hasn’t responded to us because he’s so above it all and that he “will not be drawn into immature, unprofessional, and non-productive behavior”. The immature part we’re not sure about but from what we’ve seen in the years we’ve been here, our management team certainly has perfected the practice of “unprofessional and non-productive behavior”.

Fred also provides us with a warning about “confrontational labor tactics” and how such foolishness “risks causing permanent damage to the culture that has served us well”. Ha, ha! That Fred! He can certainly turn a phrase. He can also turn a completely blind-eye to the confrontational management tactics as practiced by such luminaries as are currently encrusted in our chief pilot offices.

Here’s what we know—and we know this because you’ve told us in staggering numbers: emails, personal talks, jumpseat riding, crewroom visits, phone calls—the overwhelming majority of you like our comm, like that we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore, and that for the first time ever, management is looking over their shoulders—and they don’t like what they’re seeing coming up behind them. Fred’s stumbling attempts to marginalize your EWR reps is another indication that the sun is setting on them—and that our dawn is beginning to break. Hundreds of millions of dollars ride on their ability to keep us under control and, for the first time ever, they see their control slipping away.

It’s easy to play a game and win—as long as they’re your rules and your playing field. It’s another thing entirely to play on someone else’s field by a rulebook you’ve never seen—and that’s where management finds itself today. Greed got them where they are today, and their greed will be their downfall. Management cowed us into a terrible contract that has bred anger and resentment since before it was signed—but they could not take that victory over us and back away. Instead, their greed pushed them to take our industry-worst contract and find every loophole, every loose bit of language, every permissive passage—and use them against us with glee. Every day we come to work, we are forced to run a gauntlet
of pickpockets, put in place and supported by flight operations management.

Having seen management’s one-trick pony several times before, we can only say, “standby”. Fred wrings his hands over the disunity he claims we sow through the demand that every other employee group recognize where we are in the hierarchy—while sometime within the next 6 months we will see from his management team the infamous “Greedy Pilot” letter addressed to all of those same “other” employee groups. Sorry, Fred—the disrespect of the pilots by all the other employee groups you and yours so carefully crafted over the years will be ending—one way or another.

Fred has done one thing, though: he announced a series of “Exchanges” in the crew rooms in the weeks to come. We suggest you use these opportunities to explain to him that we will happily “exchange” labor peace, something management really wants, for a massively great contract. Anything else is no deal.
Item 3: Animal Farm, 2009

As management will tell us, all pilots are equal—but some are more equal than others. When we come to work, we have the privilege of parking at distant lots and waiting for Godot-like busses that never seem to come. We stand in the rain, snow, sleet, hail, and wind in shelters that don’t shelter, and drag our roller bags, packed for the 14 straight days of misery PBS has provided us, up the stairs of the bus, hoping we don’t pull something. Our management pilots, on the other hand, park behind the short-term lot, don’t wait for busses, and have a short walk to the terminal.

While we are thrilled that our EWR chief pilots have this fabulous perk, we must ask, at what cost?

EWR airport parking is expensive. After a week in short-term parking, some people have just abandoned their cars rather than pay the toll. We saw one guy selling his children after finding out that his airport parking cost more than the two-week trip to Disney World they just returned from. So these spots aren’t cheap.

Why are we paying for them? Why are our chief pilots so important that they can’t park with the rest of us? Why is there always money and perks for management but none for us?

As we approach the economic sections of our contract, you will hear over and over why they can’t pay us, we have no money, fuel is uncertain, Delta is bigger, United is shrinking, the sky is falling, and cats and dogs have started looking for apartments together. We wish to remind you that if they can pay themselves, they can pay us.

Item 4: Speaking of Money…

Management announced some time ago that it would be spending millions of dollars to convert all of our BusinessFirst cabins to lie-flat seats. They took the further step of adding—wait for it—“organic” sheets, whatever those are. Maybe they’re made from recycled coconut husks or old dollar bills or something. Anyway, it looks pretty trendy to us—and pricey.

Many of us have noticed recently that we are giving away our first-class seats for a song. We mean that literally like, you know, iTunes? 99 cents? It is worse than it’s ever been in our memory. Our upgrade policy has always been ridiculous, now it’s, um, more ridiculous. Management just cannot give away our product fast enough to people who don’t seem to want to pay much for it. So why are we spending millions of dollars to upgrade seats when management seems unwilling or unable to get our customers to pay for it all?

Management has millions for seats, for management parking spots, for enhanced management retirement programs, for fuel at $147 bucks a barrel—in short, they have money for everything they want for themselves. But not for us.

When fuel was off-the-charts expensive last year, did we stop flying? If landing fees go up, do we stop serving that airport? When we overbook and everyone shows up, we pay the people we bump off, right? How do we pay for all of those things if there’s “no money”?

The answer is that there is money. It comes from fare increases, fuel
surcharges, baggage fees, and hundreds of other places. It comes from charging more for a seat than what it costs to produce a seat. It comes from our management being smarter than some other guy’s management—and not just relying upon everything they can squeeze from us under bogus threats of bankruptcy.

Our current management coasted into their jobs on the heels of a great economic boom. They had a great contract with us that gave them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in cost advantages over our competitors. They also had relatively good relations with the employee groups. And they squandered every bit of it. Now they are faced with actually having to manage the airline—and facing a pilot group sick of abuse and excuses.

We can help them, and they need our help desperately—but they have to pay us first.
Item 5: Union-Busting 101, Right on Schedule

What would contract time be without furlough rumors? Uneventful—and management can’t have “uneventful”. They need turmoil, fear, loathing, and dozens of other emotions running like wildfire through the ranks of our pilots.

We have heard the rumors, too. We are not surprised, taken aback, or speechless. The rumors are right on schedule and as expected. We don’t know the precise point of origin—Chip Benton in manpower planning, Fred Abbott in flight operations, any one of a dozen chief pilots—and we don’t care. Neither should you. Neither should you waste time worrying about these rumors.

There have been no talks scheduled, no overtures by management. If they approach us, we will talk, of course, but they may find the reception different this time. We know the one thing they hoped we’d never learn: if management is going to furlough, management is going to furlough and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t “mitigate”, “save jobs”, or come up with any tactic that will not harm us in the long run—and we are in this for the long run.

We will not agree to anything to prevent furloughs—and end up with just as many furloughs as management wanted in the first place AND have to buy our furloughees back at some later date and at some higher price.

We will keep our communications open and public. We will not whittle away at your resolve by spreading rumors. We respect our pilots too much for that. We will provide you with as much information as we have as soon as we have it.

Management has yet to learn that this is not the dustbowl-era, and we are not seasonal, migrant workers. We are professionals, highly trained and experienced. We complete our flights safely and comfortably and on-time. We don’t manage fuel hedges to disastrous losses, we don’t earn our pay by figuring out how to keep someone else’s, and we don’t turn our experience on the negotiating committee against our former friends and associates—we are too professional for such behavior.

Item 6: Thanks to Our Pilots

About two weeks ago, we put out a call to our EWR-based pilots. We wanted your contract demands in as much detail as you could give us—be it a couple of bullet points or many detailed sections. We thought the response would be good but we were not prepared for what we got.

To date, we have received HUNDREDS of emails from you. Some of you had one key issue to be addressed, some of you were very meticulous in the research and formulation of your demands. What surprised us was how close every one of you were to each other. While our education effort to this point hasn’t been all that much (that will be changing) the level of your knowledge was pretty darn exceptional.

We have forwarded your emails to every elected representative, every member of leadership, and every member of the Negotiating Committee. We will also be carrying your demands into our special MEC meeting next week in Houston. We have heard your voices—everyone else will, too.
Item 7: Mr. Kellner’s Pay Calculator

Mr. Kellner spent a quiet week somewhere. None of us heard from him, at least, so we can only guess at what he did this week to earn his pay.

According to Forbes Magazine (April 30, 2008 issue) Mr. Kellner’s total
compensation for 2007 was 10.3 million dollars. Extrapolating forward, this
means that Mr. Kellner has made:

This week: $198,072.00

July 1, 2009 to date: $396,144.00

2009 year to date: $5,093,280.00

We haven’t heard of any more housing purchases but we do know several furloughed pilots who are losing theirs—maybe Mr. Kellner can pick up a couple of bargains.

Item 8: Request for Committee Volunteers

All of our committees need volunteers. If you are one of the many somewhat selfish and untested among us, if you are interested in committee work, if you have special artistic talents of any kind, or if you just like to chew the legs off your dining room table, we want you to help your fellow EWR pilots. If you are interested or have previously expressed interest via e-mail or a phone call, please confirm your continuing interest in an e-mail to Captain Kaye Riggs, Secretary-Treasurer, LEC 170 at [email protected]<mailto:[email protected]>. Please put your name and the word “Volunteer” in the subject line.

Item 9: Next Meetings

Please join us at our next local council meeting scheduled for August 12, 2009, from 1100 to 1500 at the EWR Airport Marriott.

Our next MEC meeting has been scheduled for July 14-16, 2009 at the union building in Houston. This is a special MEC meeting and it will deal solely with Star Alliance and Contract ’08 subjects. Consequently, it will be conducted in closed session.
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Item 10: Secretary-Treasurer’s Editorial

We Are Being Flown to Death

The recent passing of Captain Craig Lenell in flight was more than a tragedy—it was a warning.

As did Captain Zia Sheikh’s death at the controls less than three years ago, it raises the question: are FARs as flight and duty time limits adequate to protect us from the “Rolls Royce of PBS systems”, forced junior manning, and double duty periods in one day? The answer, as most of us know, is “not in this lifetime”.

We have heard pilots from other airlines, airlines not regarded as being on par with Continental, express stunned disbelief at our schedules and what we have allowed management to extract from us and our lives with Carmen PBS and FAR minimums.

We have hundreds of our pilots scheduled for a 14, 15, or 16 day block, and many times even more, with a day or two off scattered within, we have dozens of our reserve pilots awakened at 500 a.m. and told to “rest”—because they will be flying all night, and we have pilots arriving from a domestic red-eye, in some cases two in a row, and being sent out that night to Europe with no IRO to provide the safety net.

The FARs are an antiquated set of minimums, designed to thinly cushion the rock-bottom of human limits. They were created in an era of good airline contracts, before hub-and-spoke and 16 hour duty days became the norm. No one but management ever hoped for them to be what they have become. They were not designed to be lived day-in and day-out, they were a “worst-case” scenario—not the bottom line for “worst-case” management.

The pilots of United and Delta/Northwest have far more reasonable and mature flight and duty time limits—and they’ve been through bankruptcy. United’s pilots still do better than us after more than one round of concessions.

The pilots of AA, USAir, Alaska, and virtually every other airline—major,
national, or commuter—have better and far more protective contractual flight and duty time limits than we do—and none of them have a list of pilots who died in flight quite like ours.

Work rules will be the centerpiece of our ongoing contract negotiations; pay rates are nice and we will get great ones, but we live—or die—by our work rules. When we lost everything to the diabolics of Contract ’02, most of us did not have the choice to make 30% less; the mortgages we could afford under Contract ’97 suddenly became not so affordable, gasoline skyrocketed, property taxes went up, groceries followed—everything cost more and we were left to deal with the reality of what we lost: every month our paychecks covered less than the month before. We could either sell everything—or fly more. This second self-fulfilling option was cynically counted on by our management team: the more we fly, the less they hire, the less they hire, the more we fly. As history has shown us, it is an unsustainable cycle. But it is dollars to a “worst-case” management team like ours—the human cost is not a factor.

We have a choice: next week’s MEC meeting is going to determine where we go in contract negotiations from this point forward. Do we want real work rules, real protection from management, real and realistic limits on what we can be forced to do during our time at work? If we do, and I know we do, please call or email your local representatives. Tell them to place work rules at the front of the line in negotiations—it’s a matter of life and death.

As we close this week, please remember our 147 hostages and their families.

“Continental is recognized as a leader in the area of employee relations. This is not an accident; it has grown from a strong commitment to the Working Together cornerstone that has been a consistent and integral part of CO’s Go Forward business plan…” — Captain Fred Abbott in the July 2009 issue of the Flight Operations Update.

Remember, the next time you are junior-manned, or you have your days off rolled to cope with our chronic understaffing, or you are treated disrespectfully by a gate agent or crew scheduler, or you are abused by an assistant chief pilot over something petty and inconsequential, that our management team are leaders in the area of employee relations.

Captain Jayson Baron, EWR Council 170 Chairman

[email protected]

First Officer Tara Cook, EWR Council 170 Vice Chairman

[email protected]

Captain Kaye Riggs, EWR Council 170 Secretary-Treasurer

[email protected]

Captain Kaye Riggs
Council 170 Secretary/Treasurer
Director of Communications


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ALPA: The Pilots Union
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Work rules will be the centerpiece of our ongoing contract negotiations; pay rates are nice and we will get great ones, but we live—or die—by our work rules.

I am very glad to see this sentiment coming from elected reps! Bravo!

As far as the "anger" only being in EWR, I heard a great anecdote from a buddy of mine the other day.

A IAH based captain recently went in to the chief pilots office to show an example of a BS PBS schedule with duty periods that include mid-pairing redeye and then back to "daylight" ops as well as multiple trips stacked together that created a potential for a fatigue issue. Mind you this CA wasn't on reserve like a certain IAH ACP believes only get schedules like that -- this was an awarded line of time.

The CPs response was something along the lines of: "Well, this is the PBS system that ALPA wanted. We gave you what you wanted."

Without skipping a beat the captain retorted: "Yeah, well ALPA wants a 40% increase in our pay rates too but I don't see you guys jumping too quickly to give that to us!"

Finally, you know it's pretty bad when even the company "saviors" are pissed at management.


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