The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has issued a detailed response to a memo issued by a United Airlines Senior Vice President, who accused the union of “political opportunism” in failing to give United credit for working on a solution to long hold times for crewmembers.
AFA Pushes Back On United Management Memo In Outreach To Flight Attendants Over Long Hold Times
For background and the United memo, please see this post.
John Slater, United’s Senior Vice President of Inflight Services, argued United is working hard to reduce wait times when crews call the scheduling desk and that it has proposed solutions which the union has rejected. Specifically, United proposed allowing electronic acceptance of certain schedule modification, eliminating the need to call the crew scheduling desk.
But apparently the devil was in the details. The AFA responded:
We want solutions. This is not a problem that flight attendants who make up our union created. Simply because we didn’t accept the first solution proposed by management that meets their immediate needs and that impacts our contractual reassignment language, does not mean we aren’t solution oriented. Last week, we engaged with management in trying to find solutions and it should be clear – management could not find a way to meet any of the priorities identified in our response to them. Read our response to management to learn more about what we proposed as solutions.
Digging deeper, United’s proposed solution required two contractual concessions, according the AFA:
- United would have six hours to provide the flight attendant with a replacement pairing instead of four
- However, the notification of loss of flight time would occur at the time of cancellation rather than when the flight attendant is actually notified, which could work out in the flight attendant’s favor
- When a notice of cancellation occurs more than five calendar days before a trip, a flight attendant would have to wait for United to respond electronically if invoking contractual rights to be re-assigned (United’s flight attendant contract guarantees a minimum number of contract hours each month)
- During that waiting period, preferred routes could be taken by others
As a result, the AFA concluded:
After lengthy discussion, the MEC determined we could not agree to the proposed terms, in large part, because we do not believe it resolves the call wait time issues and only amounts to a series of contractual concessions.
It did offer counterproposal which would automate a number of functions to reduce wait times, including:
- calling off sick leave
- reserve block-in
- trade reversal/pick-ups within one hour of original transaction
- trading of positions to allow for trades up to check-in time of the flight
United did not agree to all of these changes.
The AFA memo further pits management against flight attendants:
The communication from John is a reaction to our solidarity. It is clear that management is feeling the heat from our continued insistence that they fix the problems that are their responsibility and within their power to address. Regardless of the reasons for these challenges, we want and deserve meaningful solutions and accountability, not excuses.
There is significant frustration and anger resulting from the extended period of irregular operations and aircraft schedule changes to which flight attendants have been subjected. What seems to be missed is that frustration and anger is the focus of our membership and, as a consequence, is the focus of the leadership of this union.
United insists it is taking the matter seriously.
Why Does This Matter?
Both United and AFA have taken the unusual move of airing their grievances in a very public way, with harsh words exchanged by both sides. While the relationship between AFA and United management has always been on the contentious side, hopefully the latest round of rhetoric does not suggest a more combative phase, which customers may feeling if flight attendants
Speaking as a frequent United traveler, I do find the rhetoric a bit disconnected from what I have experienced onboard, with generally cheerful, friendly, and attentive service onboard. I applaud United flight attendants for not taking out this apparently longstanding problem on passengers.
The union representing United flight attendants has pushed back, offering a counter-narrative to Slater’s scathing memo to employees. The union, at this point, is unwilling to offer any contractual concessions, even if doing so may eliminate the long hold times. It says United must solve the problem without any concessions and has had long enough to do so already.