Maybe you've heard of the term "scab", maybe not. If you work in the airline industry you most certainly have heard it and probably cringe at the very sound. Up to this point in my career as an airline pilot I have only been aware of scabs from our past. Things that happened in the industry before I was a part of it. Saturday I see my first real time exposure to real life, unmistakeable, scabs. And no, it has nothing to do with a healing scrape or burn. A scab is the label put on a pilot who does any flying, and I mean any flying, that has been deemed struck. In other words, when a pilot group goes on strike as Spirit Airlines based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL is doing right now, if you work a flight that flies their passengers under their name with compensation going to that airline (in this case Spirit), you are forever known for the rest of your career as a scab. It doesn't matter what the motivation is behind it. Whether your job was threatened or even your families, the unionized pilot groups in the U.S. will generally turn their back on you. There is even a "black list", mysterious as it is, floating around the industry making permanent record of anyone who has crossed the picket line. Generally, this keeps you from hitching a ride on other carriers and in many cases will even prevent you from being hired by another airline! And the debate goes on... Is it really fair to essentially destroy the career of a pilot for what could equate to simply doing the job that his or her boss demanded they do? That of course is up for debate. And many unionized pilots may feel sympathy for a given scab depending on their circumstances. But the fact remains, it happened. And in the environment we have today at the airlines, as has been the case for decades, there is no tolerance for it. Essentially those pilots that chose to cross the picket line are undermining the guys and gals picketing out front. Mind you those pilots on strike have lost all benefits from their job during the strike, including pay.
Beginning early Saturday morning, the pilot group at Spirit Airlines went on strike over a dispute in the contract they have been negotiating for years. This has led to stranded passengers, overworked ticket agents, and a reallocation of law enforcement to provide security inside the airport. The pilots and management at Spirit knew exactly what they were getting into when neither could agree on a contract by the pre-determined deadline. Today they're all paying for that. Whether or not the pilots are right or management is right is another topic altogether.
A charter airline by the name of Falcon Air Express was hired by the Spirit Airlines management team to provide transportation to their passengers. They were Spirit routes, with Spirit call signs flying Spirit passengers. The union representing Spirit Airlines pilots (Airline Pilots Association) made it clear before the strike that they would consider any pilot that did any flying for Spirit during the strike a scab as permanent record. Saturday, 2 pilots did just that. From what I can tell, they were the only two pilots in the Falcon Air system that did not refuse to do the flights. The other crew members under Falcon Air's employment assumed a great amount of risk themselves by refusing to work the flight. Having no union representation, you could even argue they assumed more risk than the Spirit Airlines pilots that have walked out on their jobs. The names of the two scabs have been made public record already but I will refrain from publishing them myself as I have no way to legitimately verify them nor do I have interest in vilifying them further than they already have been.
And the question remains, is it really justifiable to destroy the careers of two pilots who may have a family at home they're supporting? For all we know that could be the very reason they took the flight in the first place. Scabs have been around in the airline industry for a long time. Whether it has been pilots crossing picket lines or alter ego airlines being created by a given airline to undercut their own workforce, the list continues to grow. At the dismay of most unionized pilots that may be reading this I will dare say that I would never refuse a jumpseat to an alleged scab if they had legitimate reasons to act in the way that they did. A person with 2 kids at home making $30,000 a year can't afford to refuse a flight. The industry is asking them to make personal and family sacrifices for the sake of airline pilots around the world. Those that do refuse that flight should be commended. They are making a sacrifice for what they perceive as "fighting the good fight". Those that cross the picket line or accept employment with a scab airline because they have no other options deserve at least some compassion. Is it a problem? Absolutely. Would we all be better off if they didn't exist? Well, if by all you mean pilots then of course. But it seems today that the accuser could very easily be the accused. They throw stones that may come back to knock them right in the head. What happened to dignity, compassion, and professionalism? It certainly seems to be lacking in the airline industry today. Any maybe it's lacking in the American culture altogether.
The action of scabbing and the reaction of those pilots being scabbed against are really dark windows into the flying profession. Much like I did for the umpire the blew a perfect game with a bad call recently against the Detroit Tigers, I feel for the 2 crew members that work for Falcon Air and will probably never work for another American airline. Until I get all of the facts straight, which I may never do with absolute certainty, I will refrain from passing judgment on the two Falcon crew members. When I find out they knowingly undercut the pilots picketing out front of the airport I will feel comfortable in labeling them scabs knowing the consequences that follow. And even then, if they had a compelling reason, I'd welcome them into my own jump seat in the future.