Rather than further inflame employee tensions and potentially force a showdown with Congress or the Treasury Department, United is backtracking on its plan to force union employees to take unpaid time off.
United Airlines Backtracks On Mandatory Reduction In Work Hours
Last week, United COO Greg Hart informed employees that many would face a mandatory reduction in work hours. Reaction was overwhelming negative and even American Airlines’ CEO Doug Parker condemned the move. United insisted that its move was in full compliance of the CARES Act, which prohibits furloughs or a reduction in pay rates until September 30, 2020.
But this morning, United had had a change of hart (if you’ll pardon the pun). Instead of forcing employees to take time off, United will now make it voluntary and offer a new incentive package that will allow employees to voluntarily take the time and still maintain full-time status.
Here’s his note:
This note applies to all employees covered by the Passenger Service Employees Agreement and the Fleet Service Employees Agreement (most IAM-represented employees).
United team –
We have heard from many of you following my recent message about the proposed changes to your work schedule. You expressed an understanding of the unprecedented challenges we face, and in fact a good number of you volunteered to help. That said, you also made it overwhelmingly clear that a reduction to 30 hours, while losing your full-time status and the unknowns created by potential bumping, was extremely difficult.
Therefore, while we remain confident that our previous actions were in full compliance with the provisions of the CBA and the CARES Act, I am writing to you today to offer a new solution that meets our need to cut costs and reduce hours, but also potentially preserves your full-time status.
Starting next week, all employees will have the option to participate in a voluntary Company-Offered Leave of Absence (COLA) program that will take full-time employees from 40 hours to 30 hours, and part-time employees from 20 hours to 10 hours. This election will be available on Help Hub, and you’ll soon receive the details on how to enroll and the length of the election window.
Importantly, any full-time employee who participates in this voluntary program will retain their full-time status.
Given our continued need to cut costs across the entire company, this proposed program will only be successful if we have a high rate of participation. We will monitor the participation rates and report back to you on the program’s performance at the end of June. Without a high level of participation, we will have no choice but to reconsider a mandatory reduction to 30 hours for our full-time employees.
We appreciate your candid and direct feedback. As we have said since the beginning of this crisis, our success in proactively cutting costs now will help ensure our company, and the jobs it supports, will be here when travel demand returns.
Thank you for all you do to continue to take care of our customers and each other.
Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer
Note United does not promise mandatory cuts will be spared in the future. Instead, it notes that if enough employees step up to volunteer, mandatory reductions will not be necessary. However, it warns that without a “high level of participation” these cuts will again become necessary. I’ve asked United for clarification on what sort of participation rate will be necessary.
United will not make time-off mandatory for its IAM-represented employees. At least for now. I didn’t see this coming, but based upon the negative feedback I received from many of my contacts within United over last week’s move, this reversal will be well-received.