This is the first installment in a series of posts designed to explain the structure and function of your union. Knowing how your union works and who to contact when you have questions or issues you want addressed will help you make the most of your career.Today we’re looking at how the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) is organized.

LEC, MEC, BOD, Status Reps… ALPA-speak can be just as foreign to the uninitiated as aviation jargon is to a non-pilot, but it shouldn’t be — after all, ALPA is working on your behalf. Today we’ll attempt to explain the basics of how the association is structured and demystify the alphabet soup.

The Local Council*

ALPA is designed to be a bottom-up organization. It is the pilots who set the direction of the Association, and an ever-narrowing org chart of elected fellow pilots work to execute the line pilots’ agenda. Think of it like the U.S. government — citizens (you) tell their elected leaders what the priorities are. Each domicile is organized into a ‘Local Council.’ Pilots of each local council are represented by ‘status reps’ — so-called based on their status as a captain or F/O. These reps, elected by their fellow council pilots, are designed to be the interface between the membership and the ALPA organization. Have a problem? Question? Constructive criticism? Call or email your rep! ALPA isn’t supposed to be a distant bureaucracy. It’s meant to be a mechanism for achieving the line pilot’s goals, but it needs tangible direction on what those goals are. Learn more about local councils in Understanding Your Union: Local Councils.

* ALPA-speak often uses “LEC” as a shorthand for local council. Technically, an LEC is just the local council’s officers – the local executive council. But if you refer to your local council as your “LEC,” no one will correct you.

The MEC

Local councils are organized under the Master Executive Council, or MEC. The MEC acts as a sort of central coordination point for the efforts of an entire pilot group. The MEC has powers to make many of the most important decisions on behalf of the membership (think negotiating a collective bargaining agreement or policy manual changes). The MEC is comprised of status reps who are elected from the local councils. The MEC elects four officers: MEC chairman, vice-chairman, secretary and treasurer. This MEC leadership (often called the “MEC officers” or “MEC administration”) carries out the direction of the MEC, and oversees the work of the MEC committees. And there is much work for the MEC committees to do: committees cover a wide variety of subject areas including scheduling, aeromedical, safety and contract administration to name just a few. The best part is “…committee membership will be open to any active member in good standing.” You might not be able to be a negotiator right off the bat as this committee is elected by the MEC, but most negotiators have rep or committee experience first. There are volunteer opportunities to meet virtually any interest at any skill level. If you’re interested in volunteering for a committee, fill out the volunteer form. Learn more about the MEC in Understanding Your Union: The Master Executive Council and MEC officers in Understanding Your Union: Officers of the MEC.

So… PWA vs. FOM – “The Conditions Under Which We Work vs. How We Do Our Job”

The PWA directs the conditions under which we work, such as pay rates, overnight hotel requirements and much more. The FOM, on the other hand, essentially directs the way we must do our jobs and conduct ourselves in situations which relate to the Company or might reflect on the Company.

ALPA “National”

Yes, technically our parent organization is the Air Line Pilots Association, International (shout-out to our Canadian brothers and sisters), but when referencing it internally we say national. There are three “national” governing bodies for ALPA: the Board of Directors, the Executive Board and the Executive Council. At the top is the Board of Directors, or BOD, which consists of all local council reps for every member airline. The convening of the BOD is a bit like congress where each airline “state” sends its reps to vote on policy, suggest changes to ALPA’s governing documents, establish a strategic plan and elect national officers. The BOD meets every two years. The Executive Board consists of the MEC chairman for each of ALPA’s 35-member airlines, and it meets twice a year. The Executive Board implements the direction of the BOD and establishes policy consistent with the BOD’s direction. The Executive Council is a much smaller group: the four national officers, plus seven executive vice presidents. The Executive Council oversees the details of ALPA’s finances and makes recommendations for policy changes to the BOD and Executive Board. Quite often (in fact, most of the time), the policy recommendations are based on issues raised at local council meetings throughout the ALPA system. In other words, while these pilots focus on matters common to all airlines, the agenda is set way back down at the bottom of the pyramid with the line pilots- so let us conclude back where we started.

ALPA is YOU

The local councils are ALPA’s ears to listen to the voice of the dues-paying line pilot. Local council meetings, lounge visits and direct communications with your reps are the way to ensure your union is heading in the direction you want. It does take a little work on the part of the individual, but that small investment of your time is magnified when your priorities are taken up by the many pilot volunteers who come together to form the largest pilot union in the world.

Be sure to catch up on all parts of the Understanding Your Union series:

Local Councils/LECs

The Master Executive Council

Officers of the MEC

Governing Documents

MEC Meetings

What’s the difference between the PWA and the FOM