The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing United flight attendants, has reached a deal with United that will preserve most jobs even if Congress does not fund a payroll support extension. But the agreement comes at the expense of its most junior members, who must be wondering today why the union has a different definition of “solidarity” than they do.
United Strikes Deal With Flight Attendants
Without getting too technical, United and the AFA reached a deal over the weekend in which all but the 5,500 most junior flight attendants will have a chance to join a new Involuntary Furlough Mitigation Program (IVFMP). This option will replace the potential for being involuntarily furloughed. Flight attendants participating in this program will be awarded a “no activity line” (NAL) which means they will remain employed but without work. Even so, they will continue to accrue seniority, enjoy non-rev benefits, keep their healthcare and dental coverage, and continue to build retirement benefits.
But what about those 5,500 most junior members (those with approximate seniority dates after August 2015)? Since they have not even been offered a voluntary separation package, they will likely face involuntary furloughs.
Many of these junior flight attendants feel like the union that was supposed to protect them, the union that has stressed “solidarity” throughout the pandemic, has quietly sold them out. In fact, the agreement was made under secrecy, with union representatives from many flight attendant domiciles voting against sharing negotiation details with their members.
Kaitlin White, the president of the local union chapter representing San Francisco-based flight attendants, defended the move this way in a letter to flight attendants:
“To be clear, I do support the [agreement] because it saves 6058 flight attendants from involuntary furlough with 1203 of those Flight Attendants being members of our local council. My ultimate goal and that of my colleagues on the United MEC is to protect all 11,558 Members including the remaining 279 SFO Flight Attendants subject to involuntary furlough. However, it has become clear to me after evaluating all of the information, without an extension of the CARES Act through the Payroll Support Package (PSP), the company simply cannot financial continue to keep all 24,359 Flight Attendants on the payroll as a result of the divesting impact of the pandemic. The company has determined it must draw a line somewhere and, based on their evaluation of financial information, they believe they must do that by involuntarily fulough the most junior 5,500.”
Translation: Yep, we’re going to sacrifice our younger members to save our more senior members. Too bad, so sad.
Did the AFA simply accept United’s self-evaluation? How was the number of 5,550 arrived at?
Now that action itself may be reasonable. After all, better to save some flight attendants than none at all. But I can certainly sympathize with those 5,500 flight attendants today who feel like their union has preached “solidarity” while hanging them out to dry. Are junior flight attendants simply pawns to be traded?
For those flight attendants, perhaps this is a wake-up call that the union really doesn’t have their backs and never did.
If Congress passes an extension to its payroll support program, this program will not go into effect. I still expect some sort of extension considering CARES Act funding expires only a month prior to the election. But for junior flight attendants, the idea that their union espouses an “all for one, one for all” mentality is simply not true. The AFA will always protect its senior members, even if directly at the expense of its junior members.