FROM WOODEN WINGS
V. "ONE-FINGER JOE"
In late 1985 and early 1986 Flight Operations was reorganized. The changes appeared to reflect Barry's fear that he couldn't control the pilots, his dislike for ALPA, and his insistence on blind loyalty. In the appointment of new chief pilots and domicile flight managers, all selected were scabs. And some, like Denver's Paul Burnham, made no secret of their feelings about ALPA. Pat Nugent, Vice President of Flying and Training, was sent packing. He had made the mistake of privately questioning the direction management was going prior to the strike. He was replaced by two people who apparently were less apt to ask questions. Bill Traub was named Vice President of Training and Joe Hertrich became Vice President of Flying.
Joe had become well-known to the pilots for greeting strikers with his middle finger. So his selection seemed incredible to many, but not to Roger Hall, who felt Hertrich, more than most others, epitomized United management's ideal "yes-man." Said Hall, "I've characterized Joe on a number of occasions as one who was not very bright. Joe just did whatever he was told to do. He never asked any questions. Ferris, Jim Guyette, Barry and people of that ilk and mentality loved it, and that's exactly why they put him where they did."
But the biggest change was the addition of Flight Operations managers who the pilots came to call "Hall Monitors." These non-pilots were selected from the supervisory ranks of other departments and began to manage the pilots in a style that was viewed by the pilots as demeaning. Some had a penchant for patrolling the halls ordering pilots to remove ALPA stickers from their flight bags, or give other petty directives. "The hall monitors just fell in with a lot of other things they started doing after the strike," observed Hall, "like sick leave counselling and the fact that just anybody could give orders to pilots. It was an effort to demean and downgrade the position of pilot as much as they could. They were obviously structuring their management in such a way so as to be in a position to take us on again in another strike."
Pathetic relations between United and its pilots continued through 1986. But the issue which best exemplified the contempt between the two parties was the company's treatment of the 570. Ferris' anger at the 570 was no secret. During the strike he repeatedly promised that these pilots would "never ever work again at United." After the economic issues of the strike were resolved, Ferris refused to negotiate a back-to-work agreement that included the 570. He also insisted that his re-bid seniority list be allowed to stand. ALPA insisted that both demands-aside from their vindictiveness-were illegal. Finally, the federal mediator proposed that the legalities be decided by the courts, and the parties agreed.
In October 1985, U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Bua ruled that the re-bid was illegal and that United must return the 570 to the property. He disagreed with United's argument that since the 570 had never crossed the line, they were never employees and, therefore, were not protected by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA gives employees a right to strike and protects them from retribution for doing so. Bua reasoned that requiring the 570 to cross the line, report to work and then cross back over was an "empty gesture." The 570 were returned, but Ferris, as one would expect, was determined to win and appealed the decision. In the fall of 1986 the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned part of the Bua decision stating that the 570 were not employees because they had not physically crossed the line and reported for work. This meant simply that these pilots were not protected by the RLA and United could-if it chose to -take punitive action against this group of pilots. The ruling angered the pilot group. United management said they would reduce their seniority below the replacement pilots and those hired immediately after the strike. This only infuriated the pilots more.
In December, 1986 MEC Chairman Roger Hall was elected First Vice President of the Air Line Pilots Association and the UAL-MEC elected Capt. Rick Dubinsky as its new Chairman. The election wasn't viewed with enthusiasm at EXO. Management seemed afraid of Dubinsky. Some there had nick-named him "The Bomb Thrower," and "Mad Dog Dubinsky." While Hall's gentle but firm diplomacy certainly contrasted with Dubinsky's confidence and assertiveness, Hall's performance against Ferris, nonetheless, had given him a reputation as one who carried a loaded gun-and used it. After returning with Hall from an evening of celebrating his election, Dubinsky started to call it a night, but Hall interrupted, "Oh, there's one thing I forgot to tell you, Rick," he said as he pulled a thick stack of papers out of his briefcase. "Here's how the employees are going to buy the company." Dubinsky was speechless.