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
Good riddance to those myopic union leaders
Throwing bodies at every problem only undermines their efforts
Matthew and all.. I had to chuckle at this. As much as I have little respect for UA FA union, isn’t UA calling out the union for “political opportunism” a little like the pot calling the kettle black? UA does this VERY often themselves! Am I completely off base here?
From what I’ve seen – it is usually the AFA that goes pubic first with its grievances, then United that responds. It does take two to tango, but one has to lead.
Ha… I guess so…
Not sure informing the group you represent is starting much of anything. Either way, it’s preposterous to be forced to request adherence to what is already within a legal contract = and then receive a response that suggests concessions or the highway. The breaches of contract are constant and the manipulation of the contract language is despicable. But incredibly, there are no monetary penalties imposed when a breach occurs. Shame on both parties. It makes an employee feel very alone in a never ending, unpredictable game of sudden rule changes and expectations with no one who can provide reasonable assistance or resolution. Imagine crews having to secure their own lodging in the middle of a trip – and being on hold for many hours with scheduling after being on duty for 14 hours. The issues are far reaching and not quite as simple as is being portrayed. Just a heads up.
The issues reaching the crew desk far predate the 777 problem and it is not mentioned that management’s proposed solutions would significantly alter the collective bargaining agreement, essentially asking flight attendants for concessions to fix a problem caused by management.
AFA has shared a very detailed response, which I will cover on Monday. There are always two sides to every story.
Scotch Kirby and his posse never met a union they didn’t hate but maybe avoiding instigating fights might be more constructive.
According to the memo and this story United didn’t instigate this.
I believe that I what Christian meant.
Here’s the game….if the FA’s used the crew portal to accept schedule changes (pending notifications) then they couldn’t do any of there other swaps/drops/trades.
That is how most portals work…in order to do anything to your schedule you need to acknowledge all changes to your schedule before proceeding to any other function.
By avoiding the portal for notifications they can still do all of their other changes without acknowledging company initiated changes.
So yes, there is an automated solution but the FA’s are happy to keep the status quo.
Which would have required a contractual concession of reassignment time from 4 hours extended to 6.
I will lay this out in a piece on the AFA’s response tomorrow.
Considering the FA’s are spending significant time on hold to speak to someone at crew scheduling it would appear that the “concession” of an additional two hours of reassignment footprint isn’t such a bad trade off.
So the union should give concessions for a problem the company created. No thanks. My Union speaks for me.
I’ve been at UA for roughly a decade. The moral is absolutely the worst I have ever seen. The management is making the summer chaos for customers and employees so much worse than it needs to be. I don’t always agree with the union, however they are spot on concerning the problems right now. UA Management, especially those in the crew scheduling and inflight services department are totality tone deaf and way in over their heads regarding the operation. They don’t understand the culture of this industry, they don’t know how to make the operation more reliable through flexibility with frontline employees and the true priorities of this business. Before these few months we waited 5 min or less on the phone to complete these basic tasks, employees were generally able to conduct most transactions online through our internal systems, however now Mr. Slater alongside other individuals (Mr. Sasse) who manage crew coverage levels have begun inflating coverage levels which great reduced the ability of crews to plan their work lives, in turn creating a much less reliable operation for everyone. The error codes which have been recently programmed into our system are absolutely out of control and glitchy now. Management just wants to simply deflect a blame weather and ATC, which is total nonsense. Once again these are things that take a level of understanding of our jobs, lifestyle and industry to fully comprehend.
Our job is to safely and reliably connect individuals to the moments that matter the most in their lives and without going into further details I will simply affirm that as a FA at UA management is failing both customers and employees. I wish everyone the best this stressful travel summer and I hope those in the media really begin to focus on the issues here at UA. I enjoy seeing everyone onboard and truly love my career, however it’s an extremely challenging time at the moment. Just because management and marketing are trying to portray a certain reality to the public, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Remember this summer when your flights are canceling and delaying for hours and hours Mr. Slater thought the top priority was to do uniform compliance checks and continues refuses the reality that flexibility equals a more reliable operation.
For those of you returning to the traveling I want to say thank you so much for your business and thank you for being understanding during this very challenging time, it is truly warming to see people connecting to the world again. Fly Safe! This is my second posting of this comment I hope it stays up this time.
Not trying to discredit, but I just wanted to comment that I am also a FA at UA for a bit over a decade, and I have noticed much better morale since we came back from the furlough. (Maybe not right away, but especially now with all this great summer international flying.) In general, the FAs on my trips are happy to be there. We have a lot of eager new hires now too. When delays happen or we get reassigned, we laugh about it, push on, get over it, and then forget about it. When there’s a supply chain shortage of pillows or ginger ale, or when we get some random meal substitution, we laugh about it, push on, get over it, and then forget about it. I’m sure that the morale varies from base to base though, but I am positive for the coming months and years. Good luck out there!
You’ve got your head in the clouds then, tbh, or you’re lucky enough to actually be able to hold the type of trips you like and never have to rearrange your schedule.
United management is taking every opportunity they can to cut FA flexibility, which in turn ultimately just leads to more sick calls because *shocker* people have families, lives, doctors appointments, and actual reasons for needing some flexibility. If they can’t get it, they’re going to call out, which only leads to the operational meltdowns.
A positive attitude is commendable during challenging times. However, suggesting everyone should just smile and ignore serious issues that affect, not only morale, but safety, is, basically, invalidating and minimizing real concerns for frontline employees. The very complex issues at hand are virtually impossible to decipher by those not extremely familiar with the crew scheduling nuances of a major airline. But, with that said, both parties presenting solutions are playing the tit for tat game – all the while, turning a blind eye to the devastating effects such divisiveness and rigidity has on morale – that, in turn, is passed on to the customers relied on to stay alive in the fickle airline industry. Wear those rose colored glasses if that’s your schtick. But realize it’s a coping mechanism – not a serious solution for very serious issues.
Why does everyone expect perfection this summer, when Covid is still very real, and the world is still just now exiting the pandemic craziness? Honestly, I feel like wearing rose colored glasses for a year until the world get’s back on its feet is a good thing. If these problems still persist in 2024 or 2025, then let’s talk. I will totally retract this comment. Until then, just breathe.
I don’t have my head in the clouds, I’m just grounded and realistic. I will always be a 24/7 CCS stalker at heart, (shout out to NTA), but fortunately my seniority is finally at least able to hold junior international trips.
The pool numbers have affected me too, but there’s a reason for it: the pandemic happened. The company would not be reducing FA flexibility for no reason, especially if the direct result was further operational meltdown. The company isn’t stupid. The entire world and every single industry in it is still recovering from the pandemic, so hang in there. Things aren’t going to go back to 2019 at the snap of a finger.
I stand by my comment that I think we have a decent morale going. Most of the FAs I work with are happy that the planes are full, happy to be working, happy that more onboard service elements are coming back, happy to have more new destinations, etc.
Of course there is MUCH room for improvement, but this is literally the very first summer “post” Covid. It will absolutely get better!
Shortage of pillows you sound like you only work international trips. Of course you feel cushy and new hires are going to be excited to get something nice for once. Take a look at open time and see what the company is building domestically which is the bulk of flying.
Thanks for responding Mr Slater….
That comment was for TS above…
I’m a flight attendant at United too. They have told us time and time again in the reserve symposiums that the inflated pool numbers are due to the sustained high sick-call volumes and Covid. They claim that the operation just isn’t strong enough again yet for it to be like 2019 yet, and I believe them. I don’t always trust the company, but I believe them this time for a few reasons.
1) With one look at the sick list for tomorrow, there are over 25 sick calls for tomorrow alone in just my base.
2) They keep resorting to white flag days, which means the coverage really is low.
3) At the end of the day yesterday, there were just about 20 reserves left in base, and they started with 150.
4) I’ve had friends drafted to work flights.
They have said that the flexibility will improve when the sick calls level off, and we get enough new hires. Like I said, I don’t always believe the company, but I do NOT believe that they want us to be miserable or have zero flexibility. They are simply doing what has to be done until the airline stabilizes.
A solution for that issue is quite simple. Fix the pairings they build and legalities and hire more staff. You work flight attendants to death people will get sick. People can’t work those trips because they are dangerous and unsafe and I’m surprised the faa hasn’t gotten involved with these practices. But these elites are so out of touch and are probably evil and greedy yet a lot of clueless staff support them thinking they care and are doing good things like going green. Okayyyy
The morale on the line and the relationship is LIGHT YEARS better than the dark years of chapter 11 when legacy United flight attendants not only had its pensions outright stolen but worked under a bankruptcy contract for over 10 years. In those 10 years legacy United fas worked for about 35% less pay!! Let that sink in.
I don’t want to paint a rosy picture at how much of a shitshow the operation is but if you think THIS is bad…..
You weren’t working 13 hour duty days consistently then. And the company wasn’t building dangerous trips for you to work before and after red eyes with 10 hour day overs. This isn’t about pay.
Please keep this comment up we at UA really need individuals to know what we are going through as frontline employees.
It is funny how none of this mentions that United is asking for concessions to the reassignment language in the contract. Basically they want to have more time and more bites at the apple to reassign people to other flights, further disrupting flight attendants schedules. But folks would rather bash AFA rather than look at the facts of the matter.
I’ve been an FA at United /Continental for 16 years. I know that that’s not a long time compared to some of my colleagues, but in those 16 years, I have never felt intentionally wronged by United or the company. The AFA is trying to create chaos and stir the pot with emotionally charged language. It’s quite obvious that our scheduling hold time problems and the other issues on their list aren’t intentional. United has been very transparent about working on short and long term solutions, and I appreciate that. These problems also aren’t unique to just United; they are in fact rampant in many industries worldwide as recovery from the pandemic continues.
Irregular operations have been a fact of life this summer, but we are doing a better job than most other US airlines right now. I’ve had far more flight cancellations back a few years under Smisek, cerca 2013-2014. The AFA needs to take a breather and realize that United doesn’t just intentionally try to make our lives miserable; that’s the exact opposite of what they want to do. The solutions are on the way, and all they are doing now is disrupting relations with the company. Union or no union, the goal of a such an international, public, and large company is to have employees who are treated well… otherwise, the company’s bottom line would suffer from consumer boycotts, bad press, and other noteriety.
I hate to see these email wars between the company and union, but this time the union is out of line. I am a pro-union flight attendant and I wear my AFA pin every day on my blazer, but right now, the union is acting childish and unprofessional by bashing the company.
The AFA is not bashing the company. It sent a letter signed by membership to SVP Slater listing its grievances with inflight management. This is far from bashing, childish or unprofessional. Slater’s reply may speak for itself, while there is no intentional effort to make our lives miserable, excuses communicated transparently, poor management and consistently utilizing “do more with less ” as a solution have contributed to our current situation. We must endeavour to persevere.
Unions ruin it for all!!!!
Unions are for losers.
The AFA didn’t “start” this public battle. They simply informed the membership, as they’re obligated to do, that they had to walk away from discussions with the company on how to solve these issues because the conversation amounted to the company expecting too many concessions to the current protections and legalities, without any substantial improvements to the problems.
The union proposed automating simple tasks that in reality shouldn’t need any contact with a crew scheduler, but the company’s and Slater specifically, refused to implement those changes (those types of calls amount to roughly 50% of all calls made to scheduling) because they (whether they are willing to admit it or not) are intentionally trying to take away flexibility from the FA work group so they can use it as a bargaining chip in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
Slater accuses the AFA of being hypocrites who don’t truly want to find solutions for the FA workgroup because they won’t implement his ideas (even temporarily), when he himself refused to implement the AFAs ideas temporarily as well. How truly hypocritical.
What the AFA proposed would not have cost the company anything to implement, but could have drastically cut call hold times (automating the process to come back to work after being sick, automating position trades between FAs on the same trip, automating the ability for FAs to pick up trips right up until check in time, which are all things that we currently cannot do without calling scheduling)
What Slater wanted was the ability to reassign FAs MULTIPLE times when United operations has a meltdown, rather than the current 1x that is currently allowed, AND to be released of any actually responsibility to positively notify an FA of those changes. All of that amounts to the FA conceding protections that they currently are guaranteed, without any true benefit in doing so. Those are a very slim majority of the calls currently being made, as the majority of that is already automated. What they truly wanted was be allowed to make FAs accept multiple changes rather than just 1.
AFA represents my interests accurately in this debate.
The automation of the “simple tasks” you’ve mentioned is already in the works, and has nothing to do with the union. The company is already planning to do this. Crew scheduling is in the process of automating tasks like deadhead deviation, position trades, calling in well after sick leave, using FMLA, and more. Reference your company email on 6/29. The company has outlined many ways that they are combating the long phone hold times, and the automation you’ve mentioned is already being done.
I’m a union guy myself, but you’ve got to give the company credit where credit is due.
AFA Represents my interests concerning this issue. Management of inflight and crew scheduling should be ashamed of the culture it is creating at United. The level of incompetence and the blind eyes of management will hurt United for the long term, it’s really sad to witness this.
The operational issues are the result of management’s misunderstanding of our industry and the employees of United. It’s so silly and unnecessary, we have maintained a much more reliable operation prior to this nonsense caused by management.
I’m with the union on this one and anyone would be if they truly understood fully the situation at UA. Kirby has a lot of mid level managers that are destroying the good graces management received coming out of covid.
I’m baffled by how in any way, shape or form the union’s actions as described here are “political.” Perhaps the union leaders and company leaders disagree about political issues, but ordinary questions of scheduling, workforce management, and employee notification systems have nothing to do with politics.
Ironically, by tossing that word into its statement, United is actually doing what it accuses the union of. We have more than enough real political divisiveness in this country without a major corporation implying that people who disagree with their management decisions are red-diaper left-liberal uber-woke unpatriotic commie symps.
I believe the term ‘political opportunism’ is used here to highlight internal workplace politics involving self-serving activities in the interest of a particular agenda – and attempting to influence public opinion and promote ideas that may or may not be opposed.
Both parties are guilty at some time or another – so who cares who initiated this particular incident? And what do you do when you are trying to negotiate and the other side offers an ineffective solution with a take it or leave it attitude? When dealing with such arrogant rigidity, the options are few.
Wrong. The union is being very political here. There are negotiations coming up, and there is a political agenda. You may want to re-read the other recent AFA publications that led up to this if you don’t understand it from this article alone.
I’m actually tired of people chanting “my union speaks for me” when we have a union that doesn’t allow direct membership voting. Who are they really speaking for. The union isn’t flying. They’re not making the calls and waiting. Again we have no voice on what’s happening . It gets ugly during negotiations. Be transparent and give us all the details not half. This is the third email from management where they had to tell us what was really going on.
United Management – 2 (3 if you’re based in EWR)
AFA – 0
The electronic notifications work great for the United pilots. The flight attendants should get on board.
What concessions did the pilots make for those automations?
I haven’t been on a United airplane in 12 years. Not that the others are much better. I’ll take a two-connection routing instead of a nonstop on UA. I’ve done it a few times. Inconvenient? Maybe but United and their employees don’t deserve my business. Flight attendants don’t apply for the job for the travel and experiences anymore. On day one of their new job they collude with the AFA to wage war with their new employer…..who consequently gave them an opportunity by hiring them in the first place. I never understood being so happy on graduation day only to turn around and plunge a knife in your new employers back. Onboard service absolutely sucks. FAs don’t care because they see themselves as safety wardens ONLY….passengers experience be damned.
Thank you ‘KEN’ , I mean Chris for not flying with United…the planes are 100% full… have fun flying spirit… I think they’re more your style.
Usually Delta. They are the better of the US domestic operators. If foreign airlines were allowed to compete domestically, you’d be back at Taco Bell.
That comment was for TS above…
Did you miss the fact that this is a contractual requirement? The Carrier agreed to it, now it can’t deliver. How is this the unions fault? The unions response is basically “Your failure to plan does not necessitate an emergency on my part”. United, just fix the problem. Increase staffing. Creating a problem then trying to force a union to concede is an old tactic. Just like you, the union is quid pro quo. You went to them wanting them to give up a work rule without giving something in return. They told you to go pound sand. Imagine that.
For those of you not used to corporate anti-union tactics, this is just United creating a “problem” to bully the union into giving it what it wants. I applaud the union for calling United on it’s tactic.
Slater needs to GO! The chaos happening now has been happening since he came onboard. Spend one day in our shoes, being on hold for up to 4 hours waiting to get a hotel room or to do things the company hasn’t automated, is insane.
Slater wasn’t trying to help flight attendants. He had stipulations. He wanted to give crew scheduling a longer window in order to reassign flight attendants who had their trips fall apart. I’n turn he would automate very few situations that require contacting crew scheduling. The automation should be done anyway, to help operations.
This is definitely one of the worse times in the history of my flying (32 years). It’s madness. Slater is painting a rosy picture of the Inflight Department to cover his rear end. He has been the absolute worse leader I’ve worked under.
Let’s not forget the nasty email he inadvertently sent out to everyone in the company asking his team to ignore flight attendants complaints. Oh yes, THAT email. He has ruined the inflight department with his double talk and his lies.
He isn’t fixing anything. The long hold times aren’t new this summer. It’s been happening for 4-5 years. He cuts the budget where we need it the most, more crew schedulers.
If you can set up a place where we can post screenshots of our hold times, the public will cringe. Slater is the issue. Scott Kirby has never been employee friendly either.
Here’s one last issue. The way their computer system builds are trips is unreal. We might have 5 flight attendants on a trip who are all from different bases. So if one is late (like what has happened all week), then the flight is delayed. What in the world are they thinking? They should keep the crews together and from one base. It worked for Continental Airlines, Delta and American. United is just one big mess. It’s getting to the point of chaos
Slater has to GO now! He would never stay on hold waiting on a hotel room. Even the automated piece of crap “chat” they have keeps us on hold and then drops your call. We are getting off our flights then holding for up to 4 hours to get a hotel room. And Slater said the company is working on it. Bull crap. This should have been taken care of years ago. We are tired of him. Tired of waiting. Tired of him putting out cheesy games to build morale. Morale is low. And it’s only getting worse. United needs to reorganize and change management because they clearly are failing. Slater is failing.
We need a female in his role. We need someone who has been a flight attendant for years and has a mind to fix things. United is a male dominated company. They toss in a few women to appease the feminists but it’s clearly a male dominated world at United. A woman would have fixed this a long time ago.
We should start charging for our time on hold and time we sit around waiting on our flights. Maybe a Class Action lawsuit is in order.
Later Slater. Time to GO.