The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the powerful union representing flight attendants at United Airlines, is not pleased with new CEO Scott Kirby…and it’s only his first full week on the job. But the AFA is also afraid that with a new chief in town, it may lose its grip on power.
Let me draw you attention to a letter titled, We Have a Contract, that the AFA sent to employees after Kirby talked about his goal to “variabilize” labor cost structure. You can read the full letter here.
As I detailed earlier today, Kirby has expressed hope that through voluntary cuts in hours, most furloughs can be avoided on October 1st. The premise is simple: if employees agree to voluntary wage and/or hour reductions, more employees will remain on the payroll. This will position United to bounce back quickly once demand recovers, ultimately benefiting employees.
But the AFA isn’t amused by the plan. It told flight attendants:
“Instead we believe his message was intended to appeal to individual employees and persuade Flight Attendants to accept less than that for which we have bargained. Right now, we need to speak with one voice and enforce our Contract. Scott must come to understand that, for each of us, ‘My Union speaks for me.'”
The AFA is afraid is that Kirby may bypass it and appeal directly to employees, pulling at their heartstrings to make concessions that will weaken collective bargaining strength. Charitably, the AFA fears that flight attendants will make a bad deal for themselves if they do not let AFA speak on their behalf.
Kirby has promised far more frequent interactions with employees than his predecessor, even hinting that these may be self-recorded iPhone conversations rather than carefully-edited creations.
The AFA continues:
“As we continue to navigate through some of the most difficult times in our airline’s history, we hear you loud and clear. No concessions. To accomplish this, we must all recognize that our strength comes from our collective. No bargaining with any one Flight Attendant. We must speak with one voice because, regardless of your seniority, your base or your status as a lineholder or Reserve, this fight is about your future.”
Again, the fear is palpable. But this negotiating stance is simply absurd. No concessions? No concessions when capacity is down 80-90% and planes are still less than half full?
Is the AFA Hoodwinking Junior Members? Will They Deal Directly With Scott Kirby?
I fear the AFA offers false hope to its more junior members, when it argues:
“Together, all of us, speaking with one voice through our elected AFA representatives will make it through this storm and come out on the other side with our hard-fought, contractually protected full-time jobs that are not only careers that support families for so many but also a profession of which all of us can be proud to be associated in the future.”
Will the AFA refuse to compromise, protecting the “hard-fought, contractually protected full-time jobs” of more senior flight attendants at the expense of junior flight attendants? That’s the way airline unions traditionally work (look no further than the anger between junior and senior flight attendants at American Airlines).
Put another way, if the AFA refuses to compromise in a meaningful way, there will be job cuts. And since this is not British Airways, those job cuts will go to the most junior flight attendants. No wonder the AFA is afraid that Kirby will cut a deal directly with flight attendants.
If junior flight attendants find they are being used as a pawn to save more senior flight attendants, will they still let AFA speak for them?
I realize I include a fair amount of conjecture in this post. But the past is often a good indicator of the future and junior union members are often burned to save more senior members. Now United flight attendants, especially junior ones, will need to decide whether to trust the AFA or be open to more flexible arrangements which may better preserve their jobs.
image: United Airlines