United Airlines Negotiators Send Mixed Messages to Flight Attendant Negotiators
February 9, 2001
WASHINGTON, DC – United Airlines' negotiators actions in flight attendant wage discussions Wednesday were in direct conflict with CEO Jim Goodwin's remarks to about a hundred flight attendants on Jan. 25.
Wage talks resumed Wednesday between United and its flight attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO. The stated goal of both parties has been to use the standards set by United in providing raises to other work groups.
Talks over the raises had broken off in November, when United attempted to tie the raises to the flight attendants' agreement to a "fence." A fence agreement would allow the airline's proposed merger to move forward, while temporarily maintaining the airlines as separate operations. Flight attendants refused to tie the raises to the merger and broke off talks.
Without such an agreement, United would have to abandon the merger or unilaterally change the terms of the flight attendant contract. Attorneys hired to represent the United flight attendants believe such unilateral action by the company would violate the Railway Labor Act, and an earlier arbitration decision won by the union when United acquired Air Wisconsin.
In a Jan. 25 meeting attended by close to a hundred flight attendants, Goodwin stated his clear desire to return to the negotiating table, with the stipulation that the parties discuss only a limited contractual waiver that he said the airline needs to legally purchase the US Airways Express carriers. In the days following, United spokespeople reiterated this position in press reports.
But once United lead negotiator Tom Manley got to the bargaining table on Wednesday, he demanded a contractual waiver to purchase not only the US Airways wholly-owned carriers but also the US Airways mainline operation. Only in return for this broader waiver would the company move forward with the pay raises United had promised its flight attendants.
“We're tired of the mixed messages,” said AFA United Master Executive Council President Linda Farrow. “While United makes up its mind about whether to negotiate or fight with the flight attendants, we are moving forward in preparing our lawsuit to protect our members' rights.”
The United flight attendant contract prohibits United from owning and operating any airline where the flight attendants are not part of the United flight attendant seniority list.
United violated this provision in 1991 when it purchased Air Wisconsin. AFA won an arbitrated decision in that case. The ruling held that purchasing an airline and running it as a separate operation is clearly prohibited by the flight attendants' contract language. If the current merger is approved, United has already announced its intent to operate US Airways and the US Airways Express carriers separately from the United operation, completely outside the terms of the flight attendants' contractual "scope" provision. Under the Railway Labor Act, such unilateral changes to a collective bargaining agreement can be enjoined pending a negotiated agreement between the parties.
The 25,000 United Airlines flight attendants are joined together in AFA, the world's largest flight attendant union. Visit us @ www.afanet.org.