In fact, we had never heard this SLI talk until a recent "anonymous" forum post. Half of Seham's video time talking was spent specifically talking about two different SLI cases.
For a group trying to not talk about the SLI, their lawyer sure spent a lot of time doing it? What message does that send?
Your representatives attended a special BPR meeting in CLT August 25th and 26th, 2011. A hurricane was bearing down on CLT when we arrived. Actually, there were two: Hurricane Irene, and what looked to be a severe political storm. As you know, things are not all sweetness and light within the union leadership. But hey, it's politics and that is to be expected.
On May 27th Mike Cleary, as president of USAPA, filed a "Status Quo" lawsuit in the Eastern District of NY without prior board approval and only informed the board members no more than a few hours prior to filing. This important decision was never fully discussed or debated by the board. On July 29th 2011, the company accused USAPA of an illegal job action and filed for a "preliminary injunction" against the union in the Federal District Court of Western North Carolina. As of August 16th, the BPR had received precious little information about these lawsuits from the USAPA officers. By officers, we mean Mike and Randy, because it now appears that Rob and Gary are not really considered "officers" by the other two.
Since the president was not as forthcoming with information to the board as some of us would like, the board decided to take control and call for a meeting to discuss these things and their associated expenses. This is our right under the USAPA Constitution. Needless to say, there was some irrational resistance to the idea of a meeting (for the express purpose of informing the board of all things legal, and how we were going to pay for these expensive developments) by those who, for whatever reason, did not favor a meeting at this time. The most often asked question by these resistors was "did you call the president?" Yet, these same few became incurious when information was not flowing to the board from the president. They never asked the question of the president, "did you call the board?" Perhaps they think the board works for the president instead of the president that works for the board. But, those of us who called for the meeting had the rules on our side and eventually a date for the meeting was set- it was even the date originally suggested by the DCA reps who made the request for this meeting of the BPR. There were some unkind (ludicrous, even) accusations made against those calling for this meeting which expressed that somehow there was some alternative and nefarious agenda afoot. Some of you may have seen an anonymous letter on the internet accusing DCA and PHX of conspiring to destroy USAPA by removing the President and Vice-President because the Vice-President was having a relationship with a former Seham attorney. The anonymous web-board rant went on to indicate that Lee Seham was only in it for the money and that he was somehow upset because he was not getting to bill for the NY and NC litigation.
While we would prefer not to see romantic relationships between our union Officers and our hired help, unless it directly affects the ability of the union to operate or misappropriates union resources, who cares? PHX sure doesn't, but nevertheless, the defenders were out and loaded for battle anyway in anticipation of the "hidden agenda" that did not exist.
Since Lee Seham has always been considered "General Counsel" for USAPA and his firm works for the board, we (the BPR) asked for a briefing concerning all of the ongoing litigation. However, the "officers" had other plans. It was quite obvious from the beginning of the meeting that the relationship between Lee Seham and the "officers" (meaning Mike and Randy) had broken down to the point where they are no longer working together- or at least not working together well. There were many accusations from both sides and the animosity was thick. It was obvious that Mr. Seham was constrained as to what he wanted to say in open session for a couple reasons. The first having to do with the "love affair," and the other having to do with legal strategy of the company DJ and the two lawsuits that the new law firm of O'Dwyer and Bernstein is working on. From the start, Seham stated that he was no longer acting as USAPA's general counsel as he has been excluded from most legal decisions as of late and had not even learned about the NY case until the same time as the majority of our pilots- when he read about it in the "President's Update." Mr. Seham expressed that, essentially, he no longer works for USAPA. To be accurate, however, some of his firm's lawyers continue to do good work for the association on behalf of several committees. The relationship has not completely ended, but there has been a distinct change of operations. The board has not yet voted to officially remove Lee (and/or the rest of his firm), but it is clear that the "officers" are no longer calling Lee for anything.
The exchange between the board, Lee Seham, and the “officers” was extensive and sometimes nasty. The "officers" have even accused Mr. Seham of over-billing the union and are planning to investigate this with an outside firm. Unfortunately, this was the first time the board had heard anything about this alleged over-billing practice since we had not been informed prior to this meeting even though Mike and Randy claim to have suspected for some time. (Did you call the board, Mr. President?)
Your reps observe that it is no secret that most West pilots have held negative opinions of Lee Seham, his work, and his legal theories. After three-and-a-half years, his biggest supporters now share part of the West perspective of Mr. Seham, the man that started his association with USAPA by advising the founders that the Nicolau Award was just a "proposal" and filing RICO charges against West pilots. It is ironic then that Lee is now feeling the wrath from the other side of the aisle. It was interesting to watch as the leadership distanced themselves from this man whom they had praised for so long and followed unflinchingly into court (and more than once). Throughout the entire day, attorneys from the new law firm of O'Dwyer & Bernstein were in the room observing how the "officers" had turned on their formerly trusted counsel. We suspect this did not go unnoticed by these new lawyers.
All of this took up most of the first day, yet we still had plenty of work to do and many agenda items to cover. With the other hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, many of the leaders rightfully wanted to get out of town so they could be home when Irene hit. After day two, your reps cruised home to our good (albeit hot!) weather west of the Mississippi.
The second day of this yet-to-be-completed meeting was far more cordial and productive as we discussed and debated USAPA's continuing financial support of CAPA (Coalition of Airline Pilot Associations), were briefed by the NAC, and received additional briefing by the Grievance Committee. The CAPA wants to raise dues for everyone in the organization by 20%. While that sounds like lots of money, it amounts to around $3900 per quarter and does not represent a significant sum of our total dues dollars. Jeff Skiles gave the BPR a thorough briefing and shared his thoughts about the direction of CAPA (which has not been entirely to our liking as of late, but still holds plenty of possibilities). In the end, however, both Jeff and the President recommended that we remain in CAPA and the board voted unanimously to remain part of that organization in spite of the dues increase. We think this is a worthwhile move.
The Grievance Committee briefing was held in "closed session" so there is not much we can report from that.
The NAC made a presentation wherein the bottom line was the company's continuing refusal to move in a positive direction on any proposal, as they keep returning to their positions as found in "the Kirby." As every PHX pilot, (and every US Airways pilot for that matter) knows, the Kirby is wholly unacceptable. That proposal was unacceptable four years ago, and it is even more unacceptable today. Even if seniority was settled this instant and the Nicolau seniority list was included, let us say again: THE KIRBY IS UNACCEPTABLE! We are not making much progress, and unless some dramatic event happens soon, we are not going to see a contract for a VERY long time. We have two other bits of extreme news- one good, and one bad. The good news is that the mediator added two more negotiation dates before the end of the year, with one in November and one in December. The bad news is the NAC showed us a picture of President Obama, David Axelrod (his senior advisor), and Axelrod's lifelong friend, Gerald Glass (negotiator for the company) standing shoulder to shoulder at a ballgame. Yes, politics and connections will always trump a working-mans union during negotiations, and whatever small amount of leverage we have. So if anyone is thinking that our democratic president is going to allow for the release of little ole' US Airways (which flies so many senators and congressmen conveniently and safely out of DCA) anytime soon, please think again! The NMB reports to President Obama. Glass was the best man at Axelrod's wedding. It's not hard to imagine how a single phone call could delay the NMB for a very long time in spite of efforts on our part.
This meeting, while very informative, was long overdue and it now stands in recess until "the call of the chair." We will return to CLT September 7th to finish up the agenda and make some decisions concerning General Counsel and our finances (both in the future and the past) which need to be "cleaned up" since they have not been brought to the board yet. We also must decide how to handle the unfortunate "Distance Learning Terminations" and as well as what to do about protecting the Safety Chairman from termination.
As a final thought, we would like to thank Gary Hummel, USAPA's Executive Vice President. Gary has done a ton of work to get our new "Worldwide Headquarters" up and running. This was the first time many of us had seen the new digs, and they are very nice. The technology is pretty cool and the location is convenient to our preferred hotel as well as many decent dining options within a short walk. If any of you are in CLT and have enough time, make the effort to visit the new office or stop by during a meeting. You will have to be let into the office since it is fortified with cameras, cipher locks and possibly laser beams (though we aren't 100% sure about the laser beams), but it is worth seeing and it looks like a nice, quiet, efficient place to work. Well done, Gary.
We will update you further next week after the conclusion of the meeting.