An arbitrator has dismissed union complaints, giving United Airlines the green light to proceed with its planned closure of three international flight attendant bases.
Union Had Battled United Airlines Plan To Close Three Foreign Bases
In June, United announced it would close its flight attendant bases in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, news that was broken by Live and Let’s Fly. These workers were not offered a transfer to United’s last remaining foreign base in London. Instead, they were invited to transfer to a U.S. domicile. The problem for most of the flight attendants, however, was that they lacked legal authorization to work or live in the Untied States and United made clear it would not assist in that regard (beyond limited moving expenses if permitted to move to the USA).
Exercising its contractual grievance clause, the Association of Flight Attendants engaged the arbitration process to argue:
- Not opening vacancies in the London Heathrow base violated the contract
- United’s refusal to permit voluntary furloughs for flight attendants not eligible to work in the USA violated the contract
An arbitrator has been mediating between United and the AFA since July on this issue.
Arbitrator Rules Against United Flight Attendants
On Friday, an arbitrator ruled against the flight attendants, stating that United did not have to off transfers to the USA for workers who did not have the requisite legal documents to work there.
A note to Hong Kong flight attendants from Kimberly Johnson, President of the Hong Kong AFA Council, sums up the sentiment:
By now we all have heard the devastating news that the Union did not prevail in our arbitration. We feel anger, disappointment, frustration and sorrow. All of these emotions, under these circumstances are normal and expected…
While we continue to work in your best interest, we ask that you consider focusing your anger where it belongs; not at each other but at the company. Ultimately, all of these decisions have been made by management and none of them have been made by your flying partners who have agreed to come forward in the service of the many…
I am heartbroken by this callous decision by the arbitrator. I am disappointed. And like you, I am mad. No one deserves to be treated this way, after giving over 20 years of service. Know that your Union continues to stand behind you, and will not abandon you. We will continue to fight this injustice. In the meantime, take care of one another.
A flight attendant tells me that foreign flight attendants are livid at the AFA for utterly failing to protect their jobs.
The issue is not just the ability to transfer to the London base. Many of the flights attendants at these foreign bases have more than 20 years of seniority. That means they cannot even be furloughed: they are instead “separated” from the company. These flight attendants would be more senior than many flight attendants currently in London, creating a situation in which more junior London-based flight attendants will keep their jobs over far more senior FRA/NRT/HKG FAs. Yet with the arbitrator siding with United, the only grievance a flight attendant now has with a personal lawsuit. So much for a true seniority system…
If the CARES Act is extended, these 874 flights attendants will receive up to a six month reprieve. They are banking on that right now while exploring other options. But options are limited at this point. The sad reality is that many of these flight attendants are approaching retirement age and many will be left without options. In that sense, we cannot help but to look at this issue with great sadness and empathy for the men and women who will likely soon be without a job.