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The Inevitability Of Unions

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Some months ago when the pilots of Petroleum Helicopters were organizing, a vigourous debate was waged on JustHelicopters. It seemed as though the nays were in the majority but when the vote was taken, the yeas won the day.


Four positions are possible. One can either be pro or anti and either vocal or silent. The vocal antis are in the majority because they support the status quo and will be looked upon favourably by the employer. Because of the power that the employer holds over the unorganized employee, some privately silent pros will be publicly vocal anti. This is a safe but somewhat cowardly position to take, but the they will have both their cake and eat it to when unionization prevails, because they will have representation even though their public position was against it.


When the vote is taken, both the vocal and silent pros as well as a sizeable portion of the vocal antis will vote yea. This is why the PHI pilots prevailed even though the JustHelicopters debate seemed to favour the antis.


Quality of life for helicopter pilots is poor. They work long hours in difficult conditions. Extended periods of time away from their families takes its toll. Wages are not what they should be. As Butch Grafton is fond of saying, 'You only have the rights you are willing to fight for.'. Do not be pathetically grateful to the employer for the job. It should be the other way around. Seize the power to which you are entitled. Do not let a few control the many. Pilots working for the federal government have a union as do the pilots of every major airline on this planet. Many helicopter pilots in the US are organized and their numbers are increasing.


Do not be afraid. Success is assurred because the majority of Canadian helicopter pilots favour unionization.



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Organize? From the mentality shown from some of the "industry professionals" in this forum, all you will achieve is more school yard bickering! Yes, there is always merit in all points made either for or against an association or union. The point of interest that I would like to raise or question to you out there in favour of a union....How do you propose to get so many of the "owner/operators" on board? These so called "mom and pop" operations (as they have been labelled on this site), are a huge part of this industry and very diverse with some even being remote. How would you try to sell them on a union? To what advantage would it be for them? Try some union talk at a larger operation such as VIH, and watch the reaction of management. I am not trying to be critical here, just realistic. The old recycled union talk,( and yes I heard it many times in the last 28 years) has a "HUGE" amount of logistical problems that it would have to overcome. But of course, nothing is impossible. It seems to me that there are a large number of unhappy pilots out there, (poor working conditions???). "If" you could all manage to put some "constructive" views together, why not try and support an existing up and coming association that has been formed? After all it would be a start , or perhaps a "measure" of how we could all get along!

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We are currently doing a job providing support to a construction job. Our customer and their client both have unions, and let me tell you, it sure is a different experience.


For example you have to be careful who you lend a helping hand to, (say refueling the fly tanks with diesel fuel cause they need it in the bush and the guy that usually does it is busy somewhere else). You could end up with a grievance filed against you from the union.


The crew is short handed with some trades (no union workers available) and the entire job is slowing down because of it.


This is my first exposure to this work environment, and I am having a hard time envisioning this system applied to our industry.


One positive thing that really stands out though is the average age of the crew, must be late 40s to mid 50s. I cant say that about our industry that’s for sure. Most people seem to get out by the time they hit 50......maybe that says something about the general conditions we experience (too much time away from home etc)


There has been a lot of gripe lately about our industry that’s for sure. But I think I prefer to influence my own destiny by staying in high demand. I can work on my own terms, i.e. tour length, pay etc , vs. having the same pay as everyone else and my hireability determined by a seniority number.



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Before I ever left the ground, as a Hellilogger I spent a number of times in and out of the union. The pay was better, the pace was better, standby was better. All was good untill work dried up, in which case I lost my job. So it was off to the Interior. Didn't matter if I was faster Now I'm not saying that will happen here but there would have to be some serious, no BS answers to some serious questions.

-Who would determine who gets Hired... can the union file against the Chief Pilot for hiring practices.

-Who would determine who gets Fired,...what are grounds for firing, how many rotor strikes before it happens, will it take three write-ups to get the machine clean la la la

-How does a young guy get a job, does he need so many hours before he can long line, get a ticket from the union?

-If there is no work out there does everybody take a strike vote to demand more money and job security, even when there is no work


While there are some very valid points to the pro union group, I say this...it wasn't my ability to fly that got me my job 100 hrs does equal 0 in the heli world after all. It wasn't who I knew. It was an attitude that was acceptable between employee and employer. My advancement has followed much that same course, slow and steady. It's a small op and for that I'm grateful. More money and more time off would be great. But the customer doesn't care about that and neither in the end does my log book. The math is simple. More hours now means I can do more later, including retire

Maybe if a concerted effort was made to increase rates rather than unionize things would get better for everybody...pipe dream? My two cents ZOO

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Good call Zazu. How can you honour union agreements for pay and benefits until the rates go up? This month you get your rate on a contract bid........next month some idiots are bidding prices that make you think their accountants are on drugs . All one has to do is look at the inflation rate on the cost of aircraft and spares and then compare that to rate increases. Bottom line........my wages "mirror" the increase in rates. Insurance rates have also increased an average of 200%-300% over the last two years..........and someone or something got to absorb that.

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In the interest of fairness to both operators and pilots, any kind of a union would have to carefully examine to find a set of rules that work. Sure the operators are making money, but the % of profits when jetrangers are being jobbed out at $500.00/ hr it must be incredibly difficult to make a profit much less pay an employee or union wage. A union arrangement would probably have to be complimented with some kind of rate control mechanism. Today rich corporations that are cash rich who can save insurance costs definitely represent a threat to both declining rates as well as declining wages and drag down those who cannot support such type schemes. In support of the pilots/engineers the union would have to do a better grip over job security.


There are indeed many ways so that both the employee and operator could benefit. I don't think it would be wise to shut down any argument pro until a proposal was put forth in a design to benefit the industry. To simply suggest that all unions are bad in contrast to experiences of other industries would not be correct or justify shutting the discussion down.


My two cents.

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Not wanting to sound like broken record or maybe I am, what this industry needs is dialogue and awareness, which will never be accomplished by union tactics.


An association comprised of enough members with a loud enough voice can eventually change the way business is done to everybodies benifit.


Educate the operators, helicopter users (clients), to eradicate cutthroat operations and if all else fails, lobby for protection with the transportation agency. De-regulation has done absolutely nothing for the industry and niether has TC.


Insurance rates have gone up, over regulation has increased for no reason and the industry continues to rely on forest fires for a living.


What a laugh.


God it's great to be retired.


Cheers, Don

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my two cents worth as an engineer: Pilots work hard...and endure bizarre hours, thats a granted state of affairs. We all agree to that. Operators are trying to make a profit, also agreeded by all...the problem comes into effect that SOME operators think they can up-surp their competition by offering a better deal by offering lower rates. In some parts of Europe, the Government bodies look closely at what the "real" costs of operation of a particular aircraft type are, and intervene on the behalf of the "flying public", and tell any operartor trying to under-cut the competion on rates, that "NO, you cannot safely operate" that machine at those rates. It sounds a lot like regulation, but they leave it up to the operator to determine the way they cut costs, but cutting rates just to get the job will not be allowed. That begs the question, how to be competative? they have made the job easy....SERVICE! if there is a level playing field, then it comes down to giving the client a choice of price, vs. value. Without exception, the client will chose Value over price. A lot of clients are cost-oriented, but if they are faced with a climate of level-playing field, they will always pick the operator with the best machines, best service. Now add to that, the reluctance of pilots to work for low wages, and engineers, also, then the rates will naturally have to rise to meet the costs to supply of said services.


I feel that any union of pilots or engineers will be detrimental overall to the industry as a whole, vs. a European model whereby, the equipment used by an operator is taken into account, as opposed to other nefarious other factors is used to determined a true cost of 'operation'


My basic thrust in this agument is that the market is not determined by the Ops Manager, but by the fact that if all operators were limited by T.C as to how low they can cut prices based on realistic ACTUAL costs/hour of real aircraft.


Each individual comnpany has insurance rates based on previous performance, fuel costs are based on geographical location, and labour costs are based on the same basis.


If a company has a bad safety record, and has a corespondingly poor insurance rate, then so be it...it will promote a better safety culture. Those companies that strive to provide an excellent safety culture will prosper, those that don't will suffer.


maybe I'm being overly simplistic, but put forth this idea as a subject of realistic debate. All other viewpoints are welcomed.

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Since "deregulation" there is far, far less investment needed to enter the aviation business as an operator. Ergo, it's easier, there are more operators, but the "pie" hasn't grown in proportion to those that want "a piece of the action". In order to "get that piece", we enter into the realm of "chisel charters, "lost leaders en masse" and the principle of "cash flow only"


Making the problem even more complex is a continual churning-out of new pilots looking for a job. The result of all this, is that aircraft are being "given away" and I keep seeing ads (both fixed wing and rotary) , that say ........." and will work for nothing".


At one time (forgive me for this slip) one had to have 200hrs fixed-wing p/c BEFORE you could qualify for a rotary-wing endorsement. You also had to dig, borrow, beg, hit the realtives, mortagage items........just to HOPE you could get an O.C. All that "thinned-out" the crowd lining up at the trough for contracts and employment. It's simple Economics 100........it's called "The Law of Supply and Demand". Right now it's a "buyers market" because the supply outstrips the demand. In the meantime, you got us wanting inceased wages and better working conditions. Sorry guys, but before we talk unions, we got a few other problems to fix here before we talk unions or this "plane ain't gonna rotate"

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