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31 May, 2004

U.S. Airline Pilots Endorse John Kerry for President

In what is believed to the first political stand taken by a travel industry organisation, the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), the union that represents most of the US airline pilots, last week endorsed John Kerry for US president in the upcoming November elections.

In a press release posted on its website <www.alpa.org>, the pilot union’s Executive Board voted unanimously to endorse the presumptive Democratic nominee at a meeting on May 25 in Washington DC. The vote came after Kerry had written a letter asking the Association for its endorsement.

ALPA’s Executive Board is made up of the top local union leaders from each of ALPA’s 42 pilot groups. The world’s oldest and largest pilot union, ALPA represents 64,000 airline pilots at 42 airlines in the US and Canada.

A check of the ALPA website indicated that no such endorsements had been made by ALPA in the last US elections in 2000. The Connected International Meeting Professionals Association (CIMPA), a US-based organization of over 8,000 members in 32 countries, confirmed that it, too, has received a similar letter from Sen. Kerry and is considering it.

The ALPA press release quoted the association’s President Capt. Duane E. Woerth, as saying after the vote was announced: “The evidence is clear that President Bush’s record adds up to an unending string of actions that have hurt pilots, other working Americans, and the unions that represent them. It is time for a change.”

The release said Senator Kerry called the pilots to thank them for their endorsement.

According to ALPA, Kerry’s letter to the pilots pointed to his long history of supporting issues of importance to airline pilots and to organised labor, including direct aid and loan guarantees to airlines after the Sept. 11 attacks, a measure to elevate cargo security and passenger screening, the programme to train and arm airline pilots, “whistleblower” protections for airline employees, banning permanent replacement workers in strikes, and opposition to proposals for “baseball style” binding arbitration in contract negotiations.

Kerry also pledged to oppose the outsourcing of jobs for US airline workers through cabotage, and to fight efforts to increase limits on foreign ownership of US carriers.

“John Kerry is the right choice for US pilots – not just because of his commitment to protect our profession, but also because he has a plan to restore our industry’s and the nation’s economic health,” Capt Woerth said.

In contrast, the ALPA Executive Board noted that the Bush administration’s “strong anti-union policy has produced a lengthy list of actions and policies that directly harm pilots, their livelihood, and their profession.”

These include a policy that bankruptcies and liquidations are the answer to the industry’s problems, a “no strike” policy for airlines through threats to invoke Presidential Emergency Boards, opposition to arming pilots and opposition to legislation to provide pension relief, and proposing $435 million in additional airline security taxes.

Other Bush administration policies that ALPA objected to included implementing a new rule that requires FAA to immediately revoke the license of pilots who are deemed a “security risk” without specifying the nature of the risk, imposition of extremely burdensome reporting rules for unions, the banning of union representation for TSA employees and many workers at the Department of Homeland Security, and the loss of three million private-sector jobs with scant effort to provide new jobs or relief for affected workers.

ALPA noted that Kerry “has steadfastly supported the labor movement, including ALPA, throughout his 20 years in the US Senate” and “has a long record of support for ALPA and our members, as professional airline pilots, going back to the final days of Eastern Airlines when he voted to establish a Blue Ribbon Panel to review the Eastern situation.”

The resolution also cited Kerry’s combat service in Vietnam, his determination to “lead the fight to make creating good paying jobs in the United States our number one national priority,” that he “is committed to making affordable health care a right and not a privilege,” his promise to “ensure that trade agreements are fair to workers here at home and fair to workers around the world” and his vote to “protect workers’ overtime rights from the Bush Administration’s assault on the Fair Labor Standards Act that would cost 8 million workers their overtime pay.”

A check of Kerry’s website indicated no position related specifically to travel & tourism, even though inbound travel to the US has been one of the primary casualties of the draconian visa-tightening and security measures taken in the post 9/11 environment.

The Travel Industry Association of America (US TIA), an umbrella grouping of US travel associations, indicated that it does not plan to take a stand.

Communications Director Mike Pina said in an email response to this columnist: “TIA has never endorsed any political candidate for President or any other office The difference between us and ALPA is that they are made up of individuals and TIA made up of companies. Our endorsement would not carry nearly as much weight because we could not deliver votes or money to the candidate we endorsed.

However, Andrea Sigler, President and CEO of CIMPA said, “We have received a letter from Kerry. I am consulting with the Board of Directors on what to do with it. This is quite unusual – and I have no precedence to guide me.”

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