The Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing flight attendants from United Airlines, has sent a note to members heaping praise on United CEO Scott Kirby, even while pleading with him to consider employees as people and not numbers.
Flight Attendants Union Praises United CEO Scott Kirby
In a January 5, 2021 note to members shared with Live and Let’s Fly, Kirby is the center of attention. First, Kirby is distinguished from his predecessor, Oscar Munoz:
As we discussed last time, many within our airline, our industry and those who invest or follow us, consider Scott a “numbers guy.” It’s a distinctive difference compared to his predecessor, Oscar Munoz, who was well known for the interpersonal connections he made with employees as he traveled the system, showing up in some of the most unexpected places. We all knew, things were always going to be different with Scott, a man with a well-earned reputation for number crunching, weighing every decision through a cost versus profit lens.
By all accounts and my own personal observation, Kirby is indeed a number’s guy and Munoz was certainly a people person. Yet, I don’t think it is fair to say Kirby is not a “people person” either. He’s actually been much more communicative with employees that Munoz and uses videos instead of letters as his primary delivery system. From all I’ve seen and heard, he’s just more detailed-oriented than Munoz in terms of crunching numbers and focusing on the micro details, not just the macro ones. He does not delegate lightly and prefers to be involved in more decision making processes that Munoz simply delegated (often to Kirby).
And then comes the compliment:
Having said that, we really should consider giving him some credit. It is undeniable that he took over as CEO of our worldwide company in the midst of the worst pandemic seen in over a century and likely the direst crisis to impact our industry, perhaps ever.
There are those who believe his aggressive and decisive leadership may have been instrumental in keeping our airline afloat during a time when the industry was imploding around us. There is no denying that difficult, if not almost impossible, decisions were required to stem the hemorrhaging of cash and slow our losses to preserve the liquid resources we had in the bank. Considering the circumstances, our airline was fortunate to have someone with his skillset and experience to lead us through the initial months of the pandemic.
Kirby should be proud to have achieved this unlikely recognition. The nature of the relationship between union and CEO is almost inherently combative, especially in this era of cost-cutting and layoffs.
I also sense this praise is genuine. Granted, the letter does not end there. Flight attendants are urged to remind Kirby that they are people, not numbers:
We are reminded each time we put on the uniform, and we need to remind Scott, as employees, while our employee files may have numbers, we have names. We are United Airlines Flight Attendants who believe not only in our airline, we most importantly believe in each other.
The AFA outlines three things flight attendants can do to achieve that goal: protect “the Contract” (i.e. no concessions), minimize job losses, and work together. The last point is in reference to junior and senior flight attendants often being at conflict. That remains the case, though.
The AFA rarely gives leadership at United credit for anything, so I found this note to members most interesting. The praise for Kirby may carry ulterior motives, but recognizes the broad support Kirby has right now as he leads United through the pandemic.
Are the union praises for United CEO Scott Kirby warranted?