Is Filson a union man?
UPDATE (10/26): After studying Filson’s FEC filings quite closely, I’ve come to the conclusion that he at least has received significant support from pilots, even if the question about his union activities is still up in the air. So take Ms. Donald’s e-mail with a further grain of salt.
One of Steve Filson’s selling points has been his involvement in the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which is an AFL-CIO-affiliated pilot’s union. Needless to say, if you’re a Democrat and you’re running for office, being involved with unions is a definite plus. So it’s unsurprising that on his website Filson touts his involvement with the ALPA. He writes:
…I have flown with United Airlines for over 25 years and currently serve as Captain of the Boeing 777. At the airline, I became a member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and served in various union positions.
He then continues:
I also served the last 4 years as a flight operations manager for United Airlines, helping to assist the work lives of over 1600 pilots. This involved contract administration, dispute mediation, human resources compliance with employment, station operations, staff morale, public contact with group presentations, corporate training, security issues, etc. The position was very high profile and highly political in its nature, as I often had to mediate between the demands of many different parties within the airline. All this has prepared me for where I am today.
When I first read this I was a little amused by the tone of the paragraph. To me the section reads more like a bad cover-letter for a resume than a political document. I doubt anyone has gotten a vote for an office higher than Class President based on their experience making group presentations, so I’m skeptical of his managerial experience if he feels the need to throw that tidbit in his bio. So when I read this, I had something of a Nelson Muntzmoment, which tickled my funny-bone but ultimately prevented me from seeing a couple of very important things about Filson’s history.
A couple days ago I realized that the key word in the second paragraph I quoted is “manager.” From what I know, managers are generally not in the same bargaining unit as the people they oversee. I might be wrong about this, but looking at the ALPA website, it certainly seems as if they only include pilots in their bargaining unit. This would mean that Filson left the union when he changed jobs, and then came back to it when he became a pilot again. So the question becomes how did Filson relate to the unionized pilots when he was the flight operations manager?
The scuttlebutt I’ve been hearing suggests that, minimally, Filson burned a couple bridges when he worked in management. Debra Donald, a colleague of Filson’s wrote the following in an e-mail to the DCCC (it was CCed to the McNerney Campaign, and someone involved in the campaign sent it to me) (emphasis mine):
2. Steve did not personally oversee 1600 pilots. He was one of many managers in the office at the same time. Should you desire to get a more objective idea of his work there, ask some of the pilots whose lives he "oversaw". He was a sick leave counselor and disciplinarian, not a problem solver.
3. Steve is one of our fellow pilots yet not a single pilot with whom I have spoken directly supports him. Why would that be? Better question --why do you not know that? You hold him out to be the prized candidate, given up through the respect and adoration of his ALPA brethren. Please, do your research. Most pilots do not even know him, those who do know him often do not highly regard him.
4. Which ALPA committees has Steve served on? I was a volunteer on the scheduling committee for 18 years and I do not remember him serving nor do I remember ever seeing him in attendance at a council meeting. He is indeed a "member" of ALPA -- we are an agency shop airline, he has no choice about paying dues.
Obviously, this is the perspective of just one person. As I mentioned in a previous post, Filson has received some financial support from fellow pilots and from the ALPA PAC, so take it with a grain of salt.
That said, if Filson upset union members based on how he dealt with them, his union affiliation might even be counterproductive for him. McNerney’s office is rented from a union space, so he presumably has at least cordial relations with them. I could imagine that union members would rather work with a small business owner who could not be unionized over someone they view as an apostate or at least fair weather union member.
The other big question is one of history. Filson moved from pilot to manager back to pilot. This seems a bit odd to me, as he was approaching retirement (he’ll be 60 in January, 2007) when he took on the managerial job, after having been a pilot since the 70’s. Why change jobs in the last six or seven years of what will be a 30+ year career if you’re only going to switch back to the job you left four years down the line? I have heard someone hint that he went back to flying after he was passed over for a promotion, but I have no way to verify whether this happened, or if it did, whether it was a factor in his decisions. Still, this is a question mark that needs to be filled in.