Did Tom Brown's tough stance against the W-1W Lambert expansion plan cost him his union position?

One of the things that must have annoyed the hell out of the captains of industry who have supported, repeatedly and loudly, the planned $2.6 billion W-1W expansion of Lambert Field is that the head of the TWA pilots' union had serious misgivings about the plan. That, and he wouldn't shut up about it.

Take Tom Brown's Nov. 7 op-ed piece in the daily paper of record, wherein the elected official of the TWA Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) calls for a "real-time" study to "truly evaluate the merits of the plan." In that Sunday piece, Brown states that the pilots he represented "have concluded that the W-1W expansion plan will not deliver the improvements promised to the airlines, airline passengers and the St. Louis community."

That's not all. In the November issue of The Globe, an ALPA magazine, Brown writes, "The politicians chose the W-1W plan. ALPA's objections to the W-1W plan on the basis of safety, economics and capacity were ignored." Brown believes a real-time study would reveal the plan's "truly miserable cost-benefits numbers" and that the plan's expense, without any real benefit, will force the already twice-bankrupt TWA out of business. In closing, heresy of heresies, he suggests that at some point expansion ought to focus on Mid America Airport across the river or to a "green field site elsewhere in Missouri." Then he concludes, "In the meantime, we will be working to kill W-1W before it kills TWA."

Well, Brown may continue to work along those lines, but he no longer holds the lofty title of "chairman of the TWA Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association." He was replaced last Thursday by Howard Coldwell, who will act as interim chairman until formal elections are held in 60 days. The action was taken after a vote of the 12-member council.

A Reuters wire story that wasn't published locally quoted Coldwell as saying that the change was "necessary at this time," and that "our pilots remain our sole focus and we will move forward from here, continuing to protect the careers and livelihoods of our pilots."

Brown, reached by phone at his Connecticut home, declined to speculate as to why he was recalled: "You're going to have to ask those guys who voted." He does say he had planned to stay in his union position until his retirement next May. Even though he's been dumped, the union's Master Executive Council that Brown headed is still on record as opposing the current Lambert expansion plan." The MEC position on W-1W is unchanged -- it's still in opposition," Brown says. "That dates back to MEC resolutions from over a year ago January."

For the record, the union's official position is that replacing Brown had more to do with internal problems of communication than his stance on W-1W. In that view, Brown was acting too much on his own without communicating with the rest of the MEC. But even that theory is presented with the admission that Brown's stance on W-1W was "more adamant" than most pilots'.

But the timing of this coup seems far too convenient to be mere coincidence. Brown, in addition to being extremely public about what he thinks of the largest capital-works project in the history of Missouri, had joined several other TWA pilots in filing briefs in support of the lawsuit filed against the Federal Aviation Administration to stop W-1W by Bridgeton, St. Charles and St. Charles County. So Brown raised a fuss, and the clampdown came. Or, as Elvis Costello sang long ago, "You either shut up or get cut out."

Give us your feedback by e-mailing "Short Cuts" at [email protected], faxing 314-615-6716 or calling 314-615-6711.

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