The Fear Of Retribution Gags Seaplane Pilots
Follow – Up Opinion Editorial — written by Jason J. Baker — I know of no writer who is immune to compliments from their esteemed readers and over the last week and a half my email inbox has been flooded with those. Its also been filled with compliments about our regular coverage. But by and large the overall tenor of feedback has been heavy about Non Compete Agreements.
The goal of our tiny team of writers here, has always been to keep Seaplanemagazine.com very positive, upbeat and focused on the future of our industry. Featuring and spotlighting those who make it tick has been rewarding and interesting. That’s why we use the hashtag #TheFutureOfWaterflying in many of our articles. I usually try to stay away from the issues which drag us down. Maybe I shouldn’t.
There’s Trouble In Paradise!
“You Sir, seem to have opened a can of worms.” – “Thanks for your eloquently written opinion editorial on non-compete agreements!” – “You have become sort of a hero for many of us in the industry, for affording visibility to the Tropic Ocean lawsuit.” – “Please don’t be surprised if you don’t hear all too much, people are very afraid to loose their jobs.”
My last op-ed on non-compete agreements was online for a bit under 6 hours, before I held Tropic’s 31 page complaint against two former pilots and a competitor in my hands. Tropic Ocean Air, LLC initiated proceedings on July 9th of 2018. Filing lawsuits is quite affordable, it cost $431 in court fees.
A few hours after receiving the pointer, I had printed and read the whole 220+ pages of court documents. Over the weekend I wrote the news article about the ongoing case, which ran on Monday last week. I stand behind that piece as factual and balanced news article.
The Proverbial Hornets Nest
I personally know how it feels to be threatened with a lawsuit. Throughout my advocacy activity in the seaplane-world I more or less frequently edged with some “big people” about speaking my own mind, by allowing the disclosure of grievances or allowing people to discuss topics of great inconvenience (to some) on my Seaplaneforum.com. The grudges and business retaliation against me hold to this day. But in essence, I never worked for a seaplane business and none of these people ever had the slightest chance to go after my job or source of income. A lucky coincidence, compared to the situation of my fellow “working” seaplane pilots seem to find themselves in. The ice seems to be thin and the request for anonymity is mind-boggling.
Just a few days after running this simple news piece, I am feeling sick about being told that nothing but fear of retribution is preventing pilots from coming forward on the topic. I’ve been sent agreements, statements, stories and things that make me wish I had picked up writing about knitting a few years ago, but always on the condition not to share whom the information stems from.
People know that our industry is small and they know that poking a sleeping bear can well cost the job or make the next job impossible to get. I may personally feel deeply disturbed by the fact that we live in such a litigious society, but of course I also realize that this society has very valid reasons for being the way it is. The challenges of speaking truth to power are almost everywhere.
The Outfall Created By A Simple News Piece
Besides some very sobering emails from many pilots, there was a lively discussion with some very lively comments in the post on our Facebook Page, a social media outlet we have used to share some 900 articles on. Emotions and tempers are flying high. Against my initial belief, I had to throw a wrench into the motor and ask involved parties to skip on the personal issues.
Very passionately written Emails received so far, paint quite an ugly picture of strong-arming, politics and winning at all cost. Of course, I am in no position to tell Tropic Ocean Air’s owner and CEO how to run his ship, or when I think it’s time to drop a lawsuit and take the boxing gloves off. I certainly can’t tell chief pilots how to treat and manage their pilots. Last but not least, I am not here to tell pilots which agreements to sign and which ones to skip. Cheese N Crackers guys and gals! You’re certified professional pilots, who carry paying passengers across the planet at mind-boggling speeds in incredibly expensive airplanes. Exercise your privileges of being Pilot in Command with your career.
What I do know, is that what is going on here is damaging our industry, it is slowing us down, it is destroying livelihoods and dreams and it creates an extremely hostile environment, in which I am glad not to have to work. I would hate to go to work sick to my stomach everyday. I think I’d hate the fear the most.
For Full Transparency
On November 21, I reached out to the CEO of Tropic Ocean Air, LLC – cordially inviting him (or the company at large) to write a guest editorial to state just exactly which experiences and past stories have led to the decision to require non-compete agreements. I would have featured this piece in hopes that there would be an opportunity to provide a balanced insight into possible scenarios under which the company may consider dropping the requirement of signing such contracts. My offer to feature this editorial was completely unconditional, free of charge and directly connected to the CEO’s own public statement on our Facebook page that the topic is “ripe for great discussion”, which he would gladly contribute to.
My offer was turned down eloquently, of course there is ongoing litigation and it appears as if there is no serious interest in debate. I did receive a friendly pointer towards a anonymous commenter who used the word “unsafe” and that such was worthy of my editorial attention, as it contained an “allegation”.
I have (repeatedly) solicited and cordially invited pilots and chief pilots from within the ENTIRE industry to (if need to be anonymously) help gain a clearer picture of what these non compete contracts do to the industry. Where are they causing issues, why are pilots signing them? What should prevent adult and upright- walking individuals with a frontal cortex from signing any contract they want, with anyone they want, for anything they are willing to commit to? “Sign it and for heavens sake stop whining about being taken to court for breach of agreement”. That’s what any halfway decent attorney would say. No matter which side of the table one sits on, this response is valid and reasonable. Is anyone signing contracts at gunpoint?
The question naturally arises: What needs to change in order to encourage companies to stop requiring such agreements as a prerequisite for employment? I’ve heard statements that “training” pilots on active lines is considered the price of doing business, some others argue that any sort of training any carrier puts into pilots and crews is repayable upon separation within a defined period of time.
I specifically asked everyone to keep shared information factual, based on verifiable information, free of names and identifying information and most importantly, completely free of any and all insults. Countless emails have arrived, emotions are flying high, revelations I’d have rather not seen and would rather not speak of, for sanity’s sake. Speaking to me on condition of anonymity helps me to loose hair or sleep, or both. But other than that, everyone’s hands are tied.
Pilots Wanted – Desperately
Since bringing this article last week, I have had several conversations with a variety of pilots and chief pilots, some of which are seeking pilots. To be honest, none of the requests I get, ask for low time pilots. Total time requirements remain around 3.500 TT, 1.000 on Floats, often requiring substantial time on type for the various platforms. Most of the referral requests reach me by what is known as the “Coconut Telegraph” to avoid attracting low timers and keep Chief Pilots sane. I am sure its simple to realize that I have no serious interest in working more for less money or get any more wet handshakes. I generally do my best to avoid to be part of any business in which every party at the table makes money, except for me. But then again, I refused to pursue life as a commercial seaplane pilot, because I believe that someone who has invested money into their professional pilot training is contributing to a race to the bottom by accepting meagerly paying employment or signing contracts of this sort.
Intimidation Works – Sometimes
The hostile and highly toxic environment, but also the smallness of our industry, its exclusivity and the fact that everyone knows everyone, stifles open communication on this and probably many other, more hair-raising topics. The threat of litigation looms high and dark over pilots who are rightfully scared to come forward and put their name out in public for a simple reason. Being “The Rat” who speaks openly is a big no-no. I always tell people jokingly that I’d probably have my application for employment as a pilot yanked and shredded before it came close to the bosses desk.
Secretary: “Hey Boss, Baker has applied for a job as pilot with us!” – Boss: “Baker from Seaplanemagazine.com?” – Secretary: “Yeah!” – Boss: “Ha, let me plug that shredder in!”
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
People always seem to remember those who failed to submit to doctrine of the three wise monkeys. In traditional public relations management, damage control involves the suppression of public information and that tactic is definitely not always wrong. But in times of transparency, disturbing things always have a way of trickling to the surface. In this case, a silly little op-ed brought a lawsuit to light. Heck, I didn’t file it and did not enjoy covering it here. These things seem rare, at best, who knows how many other lawsuits are currently ongoing in an industry that is so small and habituated to making problems go away by the use of silence. While shooting the messenger may be a time-honored emotional response to the unwanted news, it is not a very effective method of remaining well informed and equipped with what is known as the “independent press”.
Jason Baker works as a freelance writer and marketing & advertising consultant. He holds a commercial pilot certificate (SEL/SES/MEL), instrument rating as well as advanced & instrument ground instructor certificates. Jason is the owner & managing editor of Seaplanemagazine.com. For more information about consulting services offered, click on Consulting & Services. Advertising spots for 2019 are being offered now. If your company wishes to appear here in 2019, the time to get in touch is now.