don’t have a seat at the table you will be on the menu.
PHPA has been a work in progress for the last 14 years. The
initial purpose of the organization was to start the process of bringing
helicopter pilots together in an effort to educate ourselves about the
underlying economic and work environment problems of the profession that we
have chosen. It has been no secret that too many helicopter pilots bought into
the myth of being that super rugged individualist who could do anything and
didn’t need help from anyone at anytime. I saw how well all that was working
for the pilots from 1972 to sometime around 1998. PHI owner Bob Suggs had no
problem telling it to the pilots with great distain that he “could find all the
helicopter pilots he needed in the gutters of Bourbon Street.” As in any
conflict divide and conquer is the strategy, keep the pilots believing that
junk and continue with the same old business model because it was working.
In 2001, for the very first time the presidents of the
first three helicopter pilot Locals got together and were able to have in depth
dialog on the issues plaguing the pilot industry. Mainly the issues were poor
pay, sometimes poorer working conditions and that ever constant attitude from
the companies of “take it or leave it”.
Strategic initiatives were developed as we used each other’s
collective agreements for leverage while negotiating our future contracts,
novel idea, and educated the Local Union leaders on Labor Law and the
Collective Bargaining process. It was amazing how little any of us actually
knew at the time but we learned quickly and advanced our CBA’s in most areas,
some pilots even started getting Sick Leave and Annual Vacation in spite of the
few naysayers who generally had nothing to add but their spin of how things
were “messed up” but couldn’t get of the bar stool long enough to do anything
other than complain. There are still some around today barking at the wind.
The current PHPA has a Council that meets once or twice a
year to review the very same issues that propelled the formation our eight
pilot units, four in the United States and four in Canada. Wages, safety,
working conditions and benefits have been the main topics. In the early years we
focused on wages and benefits as that would impact the pocket book of the pilot
immediately. Over the last three to five years we have moved our efforts toward
safety, regulatory issues and working conditions while maintaining vigilance on
pay and benefits. The biggest hurdle the PHPA Council faced was that we didn’t
have a very loud voice so we set about fixing that and I do believe we have
done just that.
PHPA International has been associated with the largest
group of pilots domestically and globally for several years. Through our
AFL-CIO international affiliation with the OPEIU, PHPA has a service agreement
with US ALPA that has enabled our member pilots to attend the ALPA safety and
accident investigation courses that are NTSB approved. Our pilots that have
completed the program are NTSB approved to be included on any accident
investigation team if and when the situation arises. We presently have three
certified investigators with four more in the pipeline due to finish their
training this spring.
What many of our members don’t see or realize is that one
of our pilots sits on ICAO committees, sub-committees or working groups that
are tasked to evaluate current aviation procedure worldwide and then make
recommendations or comment for improvement to the governing body of ICAO. This
is the first time any helicopter pilot group has had access at this level.
Generally these seats have been filled by the Operators, Manufactures and
Government Agencies. The helicopter Line Pilot now has a voice at the table and
it is Jeff Smith from Local 102. His plate has been quite full for several
years and I have been looking for someone of exceptional technical and social
caliber to jump in and help out. After all there are many of us that have had
white hair for longer than we care to remember and one day in the not so
distant future we will retire and would like to see this work continue for the
future generations of helicopter pilots.
PHPA and the member organizations have worked hard over the
last decade to elevate pilot salaries with good contracts and good benefits at
the Local level. PHPA offers additional benefits in a $3000 death benefit with
an additional $3000 for accidental death. The OPEIU has strengthened this
benefit with another $2000 and $4000 for accidental death to make a total of
$10,000. The PHPA also has a towing benefit, scholarship programs, medical
consultation through AMASS and legal consultation. The PHPA magazine,
Autorotate languished for a number of years when the creator/publisher’s contract
expired but has been reestablished in an electronic format and is due to go
back into print for distribution to all members this year. Located within the
PHPA office is an FAA certified testing facility where you can take virtually
any government test required for licensure. The PHPA also has an arrangement
with a retired FISDO manager where he will come to our offices twice a month
for pilot related sign offs on aviation certifications.
PHPA has their nay sayers. Most of them have done little if
anything to promote the industry. They have a need to criticize much like an
autistic dog that barks at the wind, they don’t know why they bark they just
have this need. To me the gains made by the helicopter pilots over the past
fifteen years have been very real as I personally know and can count the men
responsible for our prosperity on one hand. These were men who didn’t like
putting the target on their back but did anyway as they knew it was the right
thing to do. The result was the helicopter pilot has a voice at the big table.
The bottom line is “If you are not at the table you will be on the menu”.