Thursday, January 30, 2014

If I Were King

"If I were king", 

I would immediately offer the sCM contract (amendable in DEC 2014) up for a membership vote as our de facto "joint contract". 

My assumptions are: 

1. The company will accept it (because it already has) 

2. The sCM contract is more lucrative than sCO (pay rates are identical but sCM was able to negotiate the return of certain "soft-time" benefits that were forfeited post-9/11 that sCO did not get, so the contract is an improvement for sCO voters)

3. sUA constituents are chanting "contract now" all over social media (perhaps they are amenable now to a common platform from which to move forward)

4. Such a move would eliminate the source of much of the inter-subsidiary rancor (i.e. the posturing MECPs, of which Suzanne Hendricks is NOTABLY not one)

5. It would allow an immediate combination of work groups (integrated seniority list which eliminates the "seasonal overage bloodbath" that we've been encountering on the sUA side)

6. It would allow immediate negotiations for improvements in view of the end-of-year amendable date of the current agreement to which ALL parties could contribute

7. Immediate election of a joint MECP (isn't a BIG AFA election season just around the corner?) to oversee our integration (I know who I would nominate!)

8. Such an agreement is likely to pass on the 1st vote because the only group not getting an improvement is the one whose voting membership is a statistical insignificance (regrettably). HOWEVER, if passed, the sCM contingency could look forward to near-immediate improvements as a result of the negotiation arising from the current contract's amendable date.

It's GOOD to be king!

CMI F/A Contract

A Game of Three

In a game of 3, doesn't only one vote matter?

It's generally accepted, especially when there are two clear directions in the game, that 2 of the players will "cancel each other out", leaving the third with the all-important deciding vote.

Apply that supposition to the current Flight Attendant union situation and, isn't it obvious? We have two constituencies, represented by the CAL and UAL flavors of AFA, each of approximately the same membership size (11,000+), each with a diametrically opposite vision for our combined future. The third player in this game is the relatively small CMI AFA, (<300) but whose MEC has the same voting power as its larger siblings. Hmmm. Essentially, CMI AFA IS the all-important deciding vote in this game of 3. Let me share what I know about this critical piece in the puzzle of our combined future...

CMI is lead by an Aviation Deregulation era veteran who knows whereof she speaks. CMI AFA MEC President Suzanne Hendricks was hired by Continental Airlines in the early 1970s, classic Continental's "heyday". At the time, I believe that the Flight Attendant union of record was AFA. Suzanne almost immediately went to GUM as part of the "Joint Venture" with the Federated States of Micronesia.

Continental, seeking to increase influence outside the US signed a pact with the Fed States of Micronesia to form an airline JV. Part of the agreement was that all non-technical jobs would be evenly split between CO staff and locals from the Marianas Islands which comprise the FSM. Suzanne was one of the first 12 or so CO "stewardesses" to go to the new mid-Pacific hub in Guam and she's never left! During the horrific 1980s (bankruptcy, strike, the Frank Lorenzo era of CO history), the CO JV staff were more-or-less marooned on Guam! As with other far-flung staff and crews, the CO contingent of the JV was advised that they were "on their own" when the bankruptcy occurred. Suzanne had made a home and started a family on Guam so, there she stayed.

In the F/A strike recall of 1986, Suzanne came back to work on the CO side in HNL, where I got to know her. The flying from the HNL base was great but it was a long commute (7+ hours) from GUM, often on the jumpseat. At the time, she was vehemently anti-Lorenzo & anti-company, as most were. Once things "normalized" to a degree, she was able to get on the CMI seniority list and return to GUM to fly where she's beeen ever since. I don't remember the exact date that she returned to GUM, only how happy she was to be returning home, to the life she loved. What a passion Suzanne has for her island home, her family and her "Air Mike" work family!

Suzanne worked for IAM when it absorbed the UFA (the independent Union of Flight Attendants which followed when CO decertified AFA) and has just about always been a local leader. Although she campaigned hard for IAM in the representational election, she eagerly adapted to the new reality of AFA and was elected CMI's MEC President. She's always been a unionist and, my word, a "union traditionalist", angry about all that was lost during the Lorenzo years. She has thrown herself into the study of labor relations & labor law, written "white papers" on the subject and, I believe, has at least one Labor Relations/Labor Law degree.

Suzanne is widely considered to be an expert on the subjects of unionism and labor relations.

What I've recalled here is just that, a recollection. My facts may be off slightly or the "tone" of what I've written may be slightly flavored by my personal relationship with and memories of Suzanne. This is not an objective report. Rather, it's a very subjective report of a trailblazer, a Renaissance woman who is passionate about what she believes, what she knows through education, and a lifestyle that she holds dear. Suzanne Hendricks is likely nearing the end of her aviation career but I wonder, has she yet made the seminal mark on our work lives that she's spent over 40 years preparing for?

I just wanted you to know a little more about the woman who very likely holds the future path of our Flight Attendants in her hands.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Working Togehter"

Give of your best.  Expect the best in return.

Seems so simple, so logical, so natural.  Yet achieving the state-of-mind where "the best" is organically given and received is a major undertaking.  Because that's where "the best" happens:  in your mind.

There were many very positive things about working at Continental Airlines during the Gordon Bethune era.  Just before Mr B's arrival, we had changed livery, into the current "globe", and changed uniforms, into the double-breasted navy with gold accents.  But those superficial changes did not provide the catalyst, the real boost we needed to fulfill our promise.  When Gordon arrived with his plans and changes, he was just the most recent in a long list of CEOs who made promises; promises that either weren't kept or never came to fruition.  His immediate predecessor had promoted what proved to be a disastrous plan involving a second, low-cost carrier-within-a-carrier, known as CAL Lite.  Yikes!  So, on Gordon's "DAY 1", he had very little to lose, Continental was at its absolute nadir.

He started by communicating, reliably (as in everyday via voicemail) and substantively with honest, often disheartening, appraisals of just how far we had to go to survive, let alone thrive.  The unusual tone, pace and tenor of his voice was strangely calming to hear during the process.  He was constant and built credibility.  I am sad to say that I was one of the original skeptics:  others had promised, others had failed to deliver.  But day-by-day our confidence in Mr. Bethune's vision, in his plans, and in each other grew.  Things he had no right or hope to promise for our future began to actually happen.  The more we relied upon each other, the more we regained our hope and expectations, the more good things came our way.  And all through that process, our #1 cheerleader never wavered:  voicemails and other communications never slowed and the constant message was, "I didn't do this, you guys did.  Any success that Continental realizes is because you came together and made it happen."

The true and lasting beauty of working at Continental Airlines during the Gordon Bethune era was that we were led to believe in our own power and the cumulative power that we have as a team.  We gave of our best and had a right and obligation to expect the best in return.

"Working Together" was not and is not a cute catch phrase, it was the guiding principle of a miracle.  So, when it is derided and made trite both by my new colleagues and current higher ups, I can't help but take offense personally.  So what?  Who cares if I'm offended?  What am I going to do about it?

I just did...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Homage to the Number "3"

What's in a number?

We normally use numbers in an attempt to be precise.  How many?  How much?  What street address?  To what degree?  What size?  When we ask someone their age, they respond with a number that evokes a more-or-less precise notion of where they are in their journey through life.  How big are your feet?  "Size #", is the answer you expect.  "Size 14" evokes one thought, "size 3" quite another!

The number 3, in particular, is my subject of the day.  What thought does the number "3" evoke for you?  Three is one of those rare numeric entities known as "prime', meaning that it is divisible ONLY by itself and by "1".  "ABC, easy as 123..."  "Three's company".  "Three's a crowd."  Today, I have an altogether different "3" on my mind and her name is "Gaye".

This month, I have the privilege of flying with the #3 Flight Attendant on my legacy airline's (pre-merger) seniority list.  Although I've known of Gaye for quite a while and flew a Paris trip with her in the 90s, I've never had the chance to "get to know her" like I do this month.  As a "chaser", my work position is in the 777 B zone aisle; Gaye is the non-speaker A zone aisle position.  This circumstance affords me the unique opportunity of occasionally glancing up and catching Gaye at work.  At the beginning of this paragraph, I used the word "privilege".  What a privilege it is!

Gaye is a "wisp" of a thing.  Her diminutive size and stature do NOTHING to prepare you for the gravity of her presence.  Her charming face and smile are reinforced by piercing eyes that let you know you are the focus of her attention, no question.  The gold and diamond 50-year service pin that Gaye wears as a pendant appears to be the size of a breastplate on her slight figure.  She wears that pin with pride and honor.  But the  pin, itself, is an unnecessary accessory for that purpose.  Gaye's face, her posture, her "presence" announce to all that she is proud and honored to do what she does, to be where she is and to offer her gifts to others, all with a humility that belies true contentment.

Yesterday, I had completed my B zone introductions and pre-departure drinks and began to offer newspapers in both B and A zones from the publications cart.  As I passed through aircraft right in A zone, I noticed Gaye on aircraft left, chatting unhurriedly with our new guests.  "Gaye doesn't work on aircraft left", I remember thinking.  As I crossed to aircraft left at the galley, I overtook Gaye in the aisle at row 2 or 3.  I did not alert her to my presence, choosing instead to wait, watch and listen.  I was mesmerized by the organic, natural way she interacted with these new faces, new customers for our company whom she treated with age-old friendliness. I aspire to dispel anxiety and build warmth and confidence with customers during Phase I, but I don't think I'll ever possess the level of "naturalness" that Gaye has mastered.  Like me, Gaye wants to say hello to everyone in the cabin where she works, not just the ones that she's responsible for serving.  Later, I mentioned to Gaye that I'd overheard and seen her introductions.  I asked, "these days, some poor folks don't have any idea how to be gracious and cordial.  What do you do when they give you that 'deer in the headlights, you've got 3 heads' look?" because they don't know how to interact with you.  Without even thinking about it, Gaye said, "I just stand there like I've got 3 heads!".  Whatever makes them comfortable.

Chatting between services as Gaye prepared a double-shot espresso for herself in preparation for the pre-landing service, I learned that Gaye eschews technology.  She kindly offered me a bound month-at-a-glance calendar that her husband's company uses as a promotional item.  "As a matter of fact, that is the very type of calendar that I loved when I still used calendars", I said in thanking her for the kind offer.  "But that calendar is missing one key thing that my phone and iPad alarm!"  Gaye quickly demonstrated the reason that I'd always found month-at-a-glance most useful by opening it and pointing to its ease of use.  That exchange started a time-gobbling, insightful conversation about how technology has changed humanity, essentially.  I learned that she was paralyzed with fear when she thought she'd misplaced and permanently lost her 10-year old flip phone.  She is so comfortable with what it does (and doesn't) do and loathes the very concept of a "smart" phone.  I asked if she was aware that the planned obsolescence of such devices was MONTHS, not YEARS.  

This time, it was Gaye's turn to look at me like I had 3 heads!

I mentioned that next month I was swapping lines with a reserve and was gobsmacked by her unexpected response.  She expressed no shock or surprise AT ALL!  It was as though, by my choosing to do such a thing, it validated the concept as perfectly reasonable.  Instead of asking, "What are you thinking?  Have you lost your mind?", as practically everyone else has, Gaye talked about her own 5 month reserve experience, now 50 long years ago!  "I was lucky.  When I got hired at TI (Texas International), we were getting ready for a big expansion.  We started our first routes outside of Texas when we began flying to New Mexico and I was in the right place at the right time."  Wow.  What freshness, what quickness, what insightfulness, what topicality a conversation with a 50-year Flight Attendant can possess!

I look forward to my next 2 trips this month!  I look forward to the opportunity to get to know a very special lady a little better, to learn a little more about what has made her journey special and unique, to spend a little more time in the presence of someone who is so comfortable in her own skin, in the knowledge that what she does, her service to others, is IMPORTANT.  Because she makes it so.  It's nothing short of a revelation, to me.

In physical stature, I may stand head and shoulders taller (literally, head and shoulders) than #3.  But I doubt that I will ever be able to fill those tiny shoes!  The #3 has gained an entirely new significance for me.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Great Man is Passing

I just read a tribute from a work colleague about a gentleman in her small town who recently passed away.  He was the town cobbler.  How many even know what a cobbler does anymore?

He and other tradesmen like him were the backbone of an America that is becoming extinct, bit by bit.  They were men and women (but mostly men) of honor and integrity who created a life that was more than winning or losing, more than us vs. them, more than ME above all else.  They were people of humility who aspired to little more than peace and happiness.  And their lives had real meaning, as a result.  Like George Bailey of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, this gentleman died a welathy man; wealthy in all of the things that really matter.

From my friend:  "his shop was decorated with drawings that school kids made.  he hung those simple little pictures as if they were works by the Masters.  I don't know what will happen to the shop.  I know he had an apprentice, I can only hope that his family will continue with the business as its a one of a kind.  You could get shoelaces,  insoles, custom made shoes, and he could breath new life into a favorite pair of inflights!  when I moved here, I was so happy to find this town had a cobbler.  as you said, how many people even know what that is?  He had a bowl of jolly rancher candies on the counter and every time I went in, id take the sour apple and the cherry ones. I am sure gonna miss him.  he was a joy to chat with.  a quick stop by his shop would last an hour!   he just loved to chat about traveling the globe!"

It makes me wonder, especially after reading some of our social media exchanges, what will be our epitaph?

May Robert Ercolino, a good and honorable representative of a great generation, rest in peace.  

Job well done.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!

The New Year is momentous because we make it so. It is about old and new, despair and hope, departures and arrivals, endings and beginnings. Not surprisingly, I'm optimistic at the dawn of the new year, as I am most days.

As I age, the values that are most important to me become galvanized and are reinforced with every breath: TRUTH, PEACE, HOPE and LOVE, above all else.

The ultimate human ending is truly just another beginning, after all.

"If you're brave enough to say good-bye, life will reward you with a new hello." -Paulo Coelho