Why United Airlines Flight Attendant Negotiations Are Stuck – And What The Union Is Demanding

Why United Airlines Flight Attendant Negotiations Are Stuck – And What The Union Is Demanding

United Airlines flight attendants, represented by the AFA-CWA union, have been working on a contract over the past year and a half since the August 2021 amendable date and report very little progress. Direct negotiations began in January 2022, yet there’s been resolution on just one section out of 34 in their contract – dealing with flight attendants taken hostage or who become prisoners of war – despite 22 negotiation sessions held over 63 days.

  • AFA reports that United wants to reduce the ability to jumpseat, eliminate parking benefits for flight attendants away from base, and eliminate telephones (everyone has cell phones!) which the union objects to.
  • United also wants to “[d]elete [the] ability to drink under specific conditions while deadheading.” The union wants a relaxation of alcohol rules, and more pay for federally mandated alcohol and drug tests.
  • The union wants flight attendants to be paid commission for Buy on Board sales and wants more crew rest, while United wants to “Limit Crew Rest on Domestic flights – Jumpseat only for :30 rest – no enhancement to Crew Rest facilities” and impose a ‘Requirement for Flight Attendants to be “available” to Scheduling while on layovers’
  • The union wants higher pay, increase minimum hours from 71 to 75, increase pay for all positions, more holiday pay and profit sharing, they want ground pay and essential worker pay and a higher reserve guarantee.

    They are also asking for reduced premium contributions for medical and dental, plus lower deductibles, and limitations on annual cost increases as well as increased paid 401(k) matching. And they want higher staffing levels. They want a higher per diem while on the road, to be given the same meals and hotels as pilots, and a higher ground transportation allowance.

    Compensation is something the union wants to negotiate last, in case flight attendants at other airlines get pay increases in the meantime which helps their bargaining position.

  • They want to limit their duty day to fewer hours than United is willing to give, and limits on working after a redeye. They don’t want flight attendants scheduled to work more than 4 segment trips. United is willing to limit to 5 segments scheduled, 6 with reschedules.
  • United wants the ability to discontinue the International Purser program and replace with management employees. They want the purser to have actual authority on the flight, and not to be assigned merely by seniority. This would be.. .amazing.
  • They want more training pay, more vacation, and more flexible use of sick leave. There’s also a lot of discussion of how voluntary furloughs would work, given the experience during the pandemic.
  • United wants to reduce union involvement in uniform style choices, and eliminate union bulletin boards and locked boxes. The airline doesn’t want to be responsible for collecting union dues that are in arrears.

The union says 91% of their members feel unvalued in their jobs and that 99% have unresolved issues. They don’t receive boarding pay, like Delta’s non-union flight attendants. They don’t receive comparable profit sharing. And they don’t receive bonuses for the same arduous trips Delta’s crew do.

United trailed only American in furloughing flight attendants during the pandemic, and has reduced staffing levels on international trips. Meanwhile the union has eaten its own rather than worked to protect members against the company.

Ultimately the United Airlines flight attendants union says they’re not willing to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ giving the airline flexibility they’re looking for in exchange for the pay that they want. They want more money and greater restrictions on their duty assignments, in other words they want flight attendants to cost the airline more across all dimensions.

However flight attendants aren’t in the same bargaining position as pilots. Flight attendants aren’t in short supply, and it’s easier to hire more (there’s no 1500 hour rule!). Pilots can shut down an airline in a way that flight attendants cannot to the same extent. So pilots have a lot more leverage.

And there’s a tradeoff between work rules and pay. More flexible work rules mean a flight attendant can be more productive, creating more value for the company, which the company will pay more for. Less flexible work rules mean the flight attendant is less productive for the company, and they can earn less. Ultimately the value of the wage cannot exceed the value of marginal product.

After working on a contract for a year and a half, and negotiating for 14 months, they have agreement on language around flight attendants being abducted or held involuntarily – but only because neither side is asking for changes in contract language.

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