The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) recently joined with transportation labor leaders from across the country to protect against policies that improperly use U.S. work visas to recruit foreign temporary pilots and shift flying away from U.S. aviation workers.
At last week’s AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) Executive Committee meeting, member unions adopted a policy statement calling on the government to ensure airlines do not exploit existing visa programs to displace American pilots with foreign workers and undermine collective bargaining rights. TTD also passed a policy statement expressing concern about the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent decision to remove a clause in its approval of a joint venture agreement between Delta Air Lines and LATAM, a large Latin American airline, that provided unionized U.S. pilots and other personnel a fair and equitable share of growth in flying.
“ALPA and TTD are perplexed by the Department of Transportation’s decision to remove this prolabor clause in the Delta-LATAM joint venture,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA president. “As ALPA and the AFL-CIO explained, their rationale is at odds with the Biden Administration’s otherwise unambiguous proworker agenda and reflects a longstanding preference for nonlabor interests when it comes to international aviation. We had hoped the Department would be more supportive of such employee clauses and support ALPA’s efforts to protect U.S. airline employees and level the playing field for labor in the international arena, as promised.”
Through the policy statements, U.S. labor is taking a strong stand against an alarming increase in pilot positions certified by the Department of Labor to permit employer sponsorship of H1-B and E-3 visas for “specialty occupations.” The “specialty occupation” designation requires an occupation have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, in the particular specialty as a threshold perquisite for employment.
“Let’s be clear: This effort to bring foreign airline pilots to the United States on visas is nothing more than airlines’ attempting to undercut U.S. workers and their collective bargaining power, all part of a larger effort to weaken aviation safety rules by reducing pilot training and, ultimately, removing pilots from the flight deck,” said DePete. “While there are clearly workforce challenges in all sectors of the transportation industry, for airline pilots there are actually more than enough pilots to meet demand, according to the FAA’s own pilot production data. However, some airlines, who do not offer appropriate compensation and quality-of-life conditions, are having difficulty retaining pilots. That’s not a reason to misuse the U.S. visa program and undermine U.S. workers.”
For months, ALPA has been leading the charge in calling on the federal government to take immediate action to ensure airlines do not undermine the U.S. pilot workforce and destabilize our national air transportation system. In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this year, ALPA called for federal adoption of precedent that airline pilot positions are not classified as a “specialty occupation” and close coordination with the Department of State to ensure that E-3 reviewers are aware of such precedent. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Administrative Appeals Office has repeatedly determined the piloting profession does not meet that standard and, as such, isn’t a specialty occupation.
ALPA is committed to ensuring that the United States has a robust supply of pilots while maintaining the highest safety standards and pilot training rules, rules that were written in blood. The union supports the recommendations contained in a recent Women in Aviation Advisory Board report, is co-leading the FAA’s Pipeline, Pathways, and Partnerships Working Group, and has detailed steps the federal government can take to break down financial and cultural barriers to open the doors of opportunity for all who aspire to be highly trained aviators.