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Continuing to Listen - There’s More to the Story

Date: December 1, 2018

United MEC Officers- November 28, 2018

The November 28th Edition of Inflight Services Weekly contains a Scheduling Update that addresses the concerns many of you have expressed regarding the long overnight sits and the segments after ‘red-eye’ flights. While it is not our intent to controvert the information presented in this communication, we’re hearing concerns from many of you which suggests that we need to ‘round out’ the information presented to ensure a more complete picture of the events.

Rather than begin our narrative with any form of criticism, we’re going to acknowledge the work and commitment of those who should be properly recognized for their work in support of Flight Attendant issues. While there is significant change that is taking place as a result of the implementation of our Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement, there needs to be an ongoing assessment of how these changes impact not only the operation of the airline, but also the impact on the quality of lives of Flight Attendants. Differing opinions, right or wrong, are formed on these decisions as well as the individuals who are charged with implementing the provisions of the Agreement that was not only negotiated by all parties involved, but that was also ratified by the Membership.

What really matters after an agreement is ratified is the ability of the parties involved to discuss the Impact of the implemented agreement on the parties who must work under it.  We are extremely fortunate to have a Senior Vice President of Inflight who has a genuine interest in Flight Attendant issues as well as Managing Director of Crew Resources & Base Services and a staff who share that same interest and also willing to find creative solutions.  John Slater, Mark Kilayko and their staff do need to be recognized and appreciated for their willingness to work with the Union to address Flight Attendant issues.

However, and perhaps unintentionally, we believe there were a number of items that were left out of this brief article describing the changes reported.  What isn’t being told is that the leadership of the Union, your MEC Officers and the volunteers of the Union’s Central Schedule Committee have been talking to the company about these objectionable sequences since prior to the release of the first jointly bid schedules that were developed mid-September for October 1st when we all began flying on a common scheduling platform.We made several recommendations that were implemented to improve the overall quality of the pairings in the bid packages to address Flight Attendant quality of life. Some of these were acted upon at our request and you never saw these in your bid packages.

While it is true that the terms of the Contract under which we work were negotiated by representatives from all three pre-merger airlines, representatives from the company also participated. The changes that came about through bargaining were hard fought by all parties involved. No one party in the bargaining process got everything they wanted and, in some cases, difficult compromises were made to address the priorities of the parties. At the end of the process, the Contract was presented to the MEC for approval and to the Membership for ratification.

 Many of the provisions of the Agreement were intended to meet priorities based on changing economic conditions in the world communities in which our airline operates.  Further, many of the provisions of our Contract can be seen as “levers” that allow the company to make adjustments when the amount of system flying and passenger loads fluctuate. Simply because these levers exist does not mean management must fully engage these levers. 

The announcement of these changes fails to mention the conversations with the MEC Officers and the Union’s scheduling experts where it was consistently pointed out, while it may have been negotiated or ‘legal’, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do when other options exist.  Ultimately, it is management who makes the decision on which levers are pulled or relaxed but there is some discretion in that decision making.

The recent announcement of the start of flying to Prague demonstrates how the company can make adjustments to negotiated provisions. While the contract provides for up to three language qualified Flight Attendants on wide body aircraft, acting on information as to where tickets will be purchased and who the customer base is expected to be, perhaps having no language qualified Flight Attendants for a seasonal flight is the right answer.

Conversely, while United’s flights to/from India have not previously had language qualified Flight Attendant staffing, given recent operating statistics & customer scores the corporation has determined the addition of language qualified Flight Attendants is necessary to address both language and cultural issues on these flights. While the maximum number of language qualified Flight Attendants on a given flight was negotiated, ultimately it is management’s decision on how these flights are staffed provided they do not exceed the maximums established by the Contract.

We publicly applaud management for the decisions they have made as it pertains to the changes we will see in the January flying altering some of the more challenging back of the clock sequences.  We believe it’s the right thing to do for all involved. At the same time, it’s important that we accurately advise you of the Union’s role in carrying your message to management to advocate for and ultimately influence the changes that are forthcoming. After all, we’re all in this together.

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