On The Horns Of The Reserve Dilemma

Forgive me Friends.  I got to this party late. I began my leadership role in November – just as we lost our HNL trip and a massive amount of our flying.

Suddenly we were severely overstaffed. Our contract did not change, our staffing situation did – dramatically!  This had happened before – the Company handled it by furloughing in 2001, and by seniority-less transfers to CAL in 1998 and 2008.  The rapidly built bridge in 2011 did nothing to ease the current problem.

While we watched this staffing situation unfold, we theorized that Seniors would start bidding reserve.  They would probably not fly at all, we thought – and they would be paid more hours than Lineholders.  Some Reserves would have opportunities to hold a line.  All this came to pass.But, not all Reserves would benefit the same.  Because of the “preference page” (where Rs can opt to fly low, high, or sit AA), each day those requesting minimum flying went onto the list in reverse seniority order.  Each day a new list.  Each day, juniors at the top, seniors at the bottom.

There is NOTHING in our contract about “leveling.”  There is NOTHING in our contract that compels, or even suggests that Reserve HOURS be evened out.  “Equalization of duty periods” (7-31), the lowest priority for assignments, says nothing about hours.  FIFO went out the window as R preferences were respected.  NOTHING in the lengthy R section of the contract calls for an even distribution of hours.

That being said – PAST PRACTICE had to be explored.  For some years now, PP has been that: around the middle of the month, Schedulers would try to even hours out, skipping Rs that had more than 50 hours.  The intention was to prevent Rs from breaking their 80 hour cap, and keep more Rs available for crunch periods at the end of the month.

Non-contractual “Leveling” was thus created.  It seemed fair and apparently was not questioned or contested. No one is able to say exactly when this practice began or who authorized it. This PP appeared to work well – until recently.  Then, just as dozens of FAs unexpectedly found themselves on reserve, the decision was made to return to following the contract. Scheduling stopped leveling.

In the past I have been accused of attempting to change the contract.  I have been accused of cutting secret deals to advantage some, and disadvantage others.  I have never done any of this.  I have gone by the book – exactly as it is written.

This particular issue has presented a very troubling dilemma.  Senior FAs are bidding R and being well paid not to fly.  Junior Rs are flown back to back.  Clearly, in current circumstances – our R system, as contractually defined, is just not “fair!”

I have spent many hours meeting with Reserves, Lineholders and Schedulers.  I have read every Facebook post, and looked at this problem from every angle, collecting heated opinions on both sides.  I have had long conversations with our attorney as I continued to explore every idea and possible option.

The outcome of all this study is – we have no options!

We must follow the contract as it is written.  Not to do so would open our book for all kinds of mid-contract “amendments.”  If we are allowed to alter this section – why not alter any other?  Why not re-adjust our thinking about the vacation grievance?  Certain lineholders have already informed us that they are ready to grieve any change from following the exact language of the book.  They will quickly win that fight.

Our lawyer has instructed me that Past Practice is a very difficult, almost impossible, position to defend.  Arbitrators do not care about “fairness.”  They read the book and take it precisely by what is written there – not by what is missing.

I know this is not going to be a popular decision.  There is no popular decision!
Simply put – The black and white of the written words is not to be erased or amended outside of negotiations.

Fortunately, we are on the brink of those talks.  In less than a month we will be meeting with the Company to make REAL changes to our contract.  This matter now looms large and will certainly be addressed along with other pressing problems. We will fix this as quickly as we can.

I ask for your patience and understanding as we move forward.