A Senior Vice President at United Airlines has chided the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) for seeking “political opportunism” over shared solutions in a memo to flight attendants.
United Airlines SVP Laments “Political Opportunism” From Flight Attendant Union In Dispute Over Crew Hold Times
Several flight attendants have shared with Live and Let’s Fly a memo from John Slater, United’s Senior Vice President of Inflight Services, that pushes back at what it describes as a coordinated effort by the union representing flight attendants to distort United’s work to address long telephone wait times to reach the crew desk.
At United, certain flight attendant schedule changes require a phone call to confirm. Reaching the crew desk this summer has been a challenge.
Slater claims that United is taking the problem very seriously and has briefed the AFA daily on it efforts to reduce hold times:
“AFA leadership is well aware of the company’s efforts that have gone into attacking this problem because we’ve briefed them on our mitigation efforts daily. They also know this isn’t as much a crew desk resource issue as a volume-related challenge as a result of schedule modifications…”
He then chides the AFA for failing to acknowledge the work United is doing to solve this problem:
“While this, along with other challenges we are working through is certainly fair game for criticism, it’s disappointing that AFA has purposely chosen to omit references to all the work going on behind the scenes by the company to address these issues. Instead, they’ve chosen to use this situation for political opportunism.”
That stinging rebuke in the last sentence no doubt merits a response. Live and Let’s Fly has reached out to the AFA for comment.
Slater explains that that the problem is centered on the return of United’s Boeing 777-200 jets with Pratt & Whitney engines, which were grounded for over a year after a mechanical incident on a Denver to Honolulu flight. These planes have recently been cleared to return to service and United has re-inserted them into the schedule, causing scheduling changes.
“As explained in our communications, the primary driver of this challenge has been a combination of severe summer weather, post-bid schedule changes related to the delayed return of the Boeing, Pratt & Whitney 777s and adjustments to the Newark schedule. However, we know you want and deserve solutions, not excuses.”
But Slater contends that United proposed a real solution: flight attendants could accept their assignment electronically via crew scheduling software to avoid phone calls:
“With that in mind, last month we proposed to AFA leadership a solution that could significantly mitigate call wait times by allowing flight attendants to accept their assignment through CCS, eliminating the need to contact scheduling. The requirement for a flight attendant to call scheduling when a pairing is disrupted was a contractual provision created before this automation was available and all crew members had Links provided. This outdated process ties up valuable scheduler time making or receiving phone calls that could easily be communicated electronically.”
But AFA shot down this solution:
“On Friday, July 10, President Ken Diaz sent the membership a communication with their excuses for why the MEC turned down this solution claiming it wouldn’t aid call wait times. Of course, their unwillingness to test this solution guarantees that outcome. AFA leadership’s refusal to even test this proposal, which was temporary to get us through the summer months, exposes their hypocrisy about trying to find solutions that benefit flight attendants. If their intention was problem-solving rather than grandstanding, they would embrace this initiative that improves efficiency and the quality of life for their members. Their failure to act here is yet another example of their “all talk, no action” pattern of complacency.”
United encourages flight attendants to let Ken Diaz know that it is time to work together.
The fact that Slater has used such sharp language and elevated this spat to a public-level debate (even conceding in his memo, “While it’s not in our interest to enter into public debates with the association, we also can’t allow half-truths to go unchecked”), indicates to me that the union is not giving United credit for its work to address this issue. I don’t excuse United for making crews wait in the first place, but the idea that United is ignoring the issue seems quite far-fetched.
image: United Airlines