By BOB GRIFFIN
On April 1, some of my fellow Alaska Airlines pilots will be picketing to protest of our ongoing contract negotiations. I will not be joining them.
Currently, the average Alaska Airlines captain makes about $90,000 a year more than the average surgeon, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and averages 15 days off every month, along with a month of vacation every year.
While recovering from two years of pandemic disruptions, Alaska Airline’s opening proposal to Alaska pilots contract negotiations includes more than 30 improvements to work rules. Additionally, the company has proposed pay increases that includes the highest pay rate in the industry for new-hire copilots and matches the current average pay rate of captains flying narrow-body aircraft at Southwest, Delta, United and American (the four US Airlines bigger than Alaska).
In addition to that, the company is offering an adjustment in pay rates after one year, if the pay pattern for other carriers increases during that year. Reasonable.
We’ve always been well compensated at Alaska but rarely at the top pay in the industry because we don’t have wide-body aircraft that bigger carriers use to supplement the higher cost per seat of their narrow-body fleets. Everyone who has ever interviewed to work for Alaska Airlines is aware of that.
My union bosses, who are encouraging a group think decision making process, are demanding a pay rate $34/hour abovethe highest paid narrow-body pilots at major passenger airlines with wide-body fleets. Unreasonable. They will say the pay demand is based on member polling data. They’re operating on bad data. I’ve taken the union polls. They’re not anything close to being scientific or at all balanced.
If you polled most Alaska Airlines pilots and asked if they want wages 15%-20% above the highest pay the industry, with no other context — most would probably say yes. Who wouldn’t? Everyone would like more money. If you informed pilots that wages at that level would make the airline significantly less competitive, drive-up ticket prices, and hamper the company’s ability to grow — there would be few who would be in favor.
If Alaska Airlines somehow granted 3,000 pilots a sudden 20% pay increase, it would be very difficult to do less for the other 20,000 non-pilot employees at the airline. We have chosen to work in a very competitive industry, where the balance between growth and stagnation are determined in very small margins. We must keep our costs competitive — to keep our ticket prices competitive — to attract more guests and grow.
When I joined Alaska in 2000, we were the 11th largest airline in the US with around 1,200 pilots. Today, Alaska is 5th largest airline in the US with 3,000 pilots, 238 aircraft and 145 new Boeing 737’s on order through 2026. Because of that growth, I’m in the top 20% of most senior pilots at Alaska. If we had not grown, I would still be around the middle of our pilot seniority list after 21 years.
Alaska Airlines was recently recognized as one of the Top 100 Best Employers in the US by Forbes and the Airline of the Year by Aviation Week’s Air Transport World. Alaska Airlines has a great culture, and a fantastic group of coworkers who collectively focus on giving our guests the award-winning service they deserve, at a fair price. There are plenty of airline industry jobs that will sometimes pay a little more. We all knew that, before we signed up to be a part of this great company.
Bob Griffin is a pilot with Alaska Airlines and lives in Anchorage.