FROM WOODEN WINGS
VIII. THE BRIGHT SHINING LIGHT
Almost immediately upon Tallent's arrival, significant changes started occurring in the company's behavior toward its pilots. Tallent realized that quite a number of the management practices he observed ran contrary to accepted tenets of management-labor relations. Said Dubinsky, "All you have to do is read some of the text books on the subject to know that what we witnessed here at United was a very individualized reaction to the strike. It was not a common method of dealing with labor, especially a highly professional labor group like airline pilots. Tallent recognized that immediately and started to correct as much of it as quickly as he could."
During Tallent's short tenure at United, all but two of the terminated 570 pilots were reinstated. Pilots were again allowed to exercise their right to ALPA representation in initial hearings, and the oppressive sick-leave counselling was discontinued. Most significantly, a tremendous backlog of pilot grievances were favorably resolved across the table between Tallent and Dubinsky that would have otherwise taken years to resolve through the already overloaded neutral System Board.
These changes weren't easy for Tallent. At times he found himself up against the wall from internal company politics. As a result, virtually all of the changes that Tallent brought about were done without Barry's cooperation or, in many cases, over his objections. At one point Tallent told the MEC officers, "If you think ALPA politics are bad, you should see the politics inside EXO."
Dubinsky and the other officers had a high regard for Tallent even though, in the end, he worked against ALPA by helping the International Association of Machinists (IAM) develop the Protective Covenants for their new contract. Dubinsky commented, "Was Tallent sent here to try and kill the ESOP? I think you'd have to say yes, given his track record with the IAM. But from a labor relations standpoint, he was clearly a bright shining light. He was honest and he accomplished a lot of things, even over the strong objections of Barry-and perhaps even Jim Guyette, although we have no direct evidence of that."
The IAM leadership was strongly opposed to the ESOP. Some in ALPA suspected their concern centered around how such a concept would affect their authority. The IAM leadership also claimed the ESOP was nothing more than an attempt by the pilots to keep their salaries up at the expense of everybody else.
In the fall of 1987 the IAM and the company approached the end of a federally mandated 30-day cooling off period. United pilots set up strike support offices around the system in preparation for a possible IAM strike. Unknown to the pilots at the time, one of the unresolved issues was the mutual desire by the IAM and the company for a contractual "poison pill" to stave off employee ownership. The IAM was playing its cards right and wanted big bucks from the company in return for the agreement. They got it and the United's pilots felt betrayed. Not only did the IAM try and scuttle the ESOP, but they didn't even bother removing their no-sympathy-strike clause from their contract. That clause had conveniently kept the IAM at work during the pilots' 1985 strike. The IAM hid behind that clause and crossed ALPA picket lines.
ALPA sued United and the IAM claiming that the Protective Covenants were designed to unlawfully deprive ALPA and the company's shareholders of their rights. The U.S. District Court threw out one provision and claimed it didn't have jurisdiction to rule on the other. Both ALPA and the company appealed. In May of 1989 the Appellate Court agreed with ALPA on both counts and ordered the second provision sent back to the District Court for hearing. The court noted that financing for the ESOP could not proceed until the two covenants were removed.
By the end of 1987 the grievance machinery was grinding out a number of very significant victories for ALPA and the pilots. Arbitrators had ruled against the company in at least nine major cases. Pilots could not fly as captain unless they held captain seniority. That eliminated one of the perks granted to the scabs by Barry. The company was also forced to release dozens of scab and fleet-qual pilots from the TCA positions because they had been awarded the jobs improperly and at the expense of qualified striking pilots. The Board further ruled that the company's refusal to grant ALPA pilots trip drops to conduct ALPA business was improper. The Board also ruled for ALPA on a number of contract violations as well as a number of improper terminations-including one pilot fired for wearing a yellow ribbon.
For nearly six months the corporation had been a rudderless ship, unable to find a permanent CEO. A number of positive personnel changes did occur, however, under Olson's interim tenure; John Cowan, Frank Jarc, Kurt Stocker and Dave Pringle all resigned or were asked to leave.