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Let's Talk About Scott Kirby

Date: January 5, 2021

Let's Talk About Scott Kirby

We started a conversation last week about what may happen on April 1. As we continue our expanding conversation, today we’ll focus on United’s CEO, and understanding Scott Kirby.

As we discussed last time, many within our airline, our industry and those who invest or follow us, consider Scott a “numbers guy.” It’s a distinctive difference compared to his predecessor, Oscar Munoz, who was well known for the interpersonal connections he made with employees as he traveled the system, showing up in some of the most unexpected places. We all knew, things were always going to be different with Scott, a man with a well-earned reputation for number crunching, weighing every decision through a cost versus profit lens. We do have to acknowledge and understand the lens through which the world is viewed by those around us even though, as “people-people”, it’s likely difficult for many of us to fully appreciate that perspective.

Having said that, we really should consider giving him some credit. It is undeniable that he took over as CEO of our worldwide company in the midst of the worst pandemic seen in over a century and likely the direst crisis to impact our industry, perhaps ever. 

There are those who believe his aggressive and decisive leadership may have been instrumental in keeping our airline afloat during a time when the industry was imploding around us. There is no denying that difficult, if not almost impossible, decisions were required to stem the hemorrhaging of cash and slow our losses to preserve the liquid resources we had in the bank. Considering the circumstances, our airline was fortunate to have someone with his skillset and experience to lead us through the initial months of the pandemic. At the same time, over those many months, corporate leadership changed even more as Scott put into place management leaders that reflected his style as a lean operating machine, focused above all else, on numbers.

This philosophical shift can be seen as we look back over the past 60-days at Flight Attendant staffing decisions made leveraging the negotiated provisions of our Contract to manage the staffing needed to meet holiday travel demand with limited staffing resources through the use of White/Purple Flag, Drafting and other scheduling tools. As a result, that segment of the Membership who took advantage of picking up flying for premium pay benefited while working alongside their flying partners who were not receiving that same pay while being subject to drafting and reassignment. The result was chaotic, ultimately creating a significant lack of schedule flexibility for many of us while impacting Flight Attendant quality of life.

Scott’s view of looking at “numbers” to run an airline is a legitimate perspective. However, the problem with this approach at ten months into the pandemic and in the long-term, is that we are not numbers, we are people. 

Perhaps from management’s view, we are now neatly packaged into finely-tuned, labeled and numbered groups consisting of Involuntary Furloughs, Voluntary Furloughs, IVFMP, those on NAL schedules, Lineholders, Reserves, senior, junior and, the list goes on. 

Some may argue, this is a necessity to manage staffing during a crisis. We can find agreement in the fact we are still an industry in crisis, and that we need equitable solutions to manage staffing to run the airline while allowing a mobile workforce to care for not only ourselves, but our families as well. We are not in agreement with continuing to follow a strict numbers approach that fails to recognize the very human circumstances we collectively find ourselves in during a pandemic. We remain resolute that we need to find better long-term solutions that don’t pit Members of our Flight Attendant family against each other. Breaking us down into these groups, by its very nature, puts us at odds with one another creating a competitive rather than a collective environment for employment, benefits, a living wage, discretionary time off or schedule flexibility. 

We are reminded each time we put on the uniform, and we need to remind Scott, as employees, while our employee files may have numbers, we have names. We are United Airlines Flight Attendants who believe not only in our airline, we most importantly believe in each other. As that work group that spends the most time with the passengers (upon whom we all depend for our success) and we bring them back, time and again, through our work and commitment.

Collectively, we must continue to vigorously pursue three goals:

  • To defend and protect our Contract, so that when the pandemic is over, we all have not only a job to which we can return but one that is respected and worth having. This may be the worst crisis we’ve ever faced, but it certainly will not be the last; and ensuring we have not just a job, but a career that recognizes the hard work we do is critical.
  • To minimize any and all potential involuntary job loss. Our ultimate goal must be to eliminate it, and that may or may not be a road that takes some time to achieve, depending on the willingness of Scott and his team to find reasonable, equitable solutions to our mutual issues. As we often say, “An injury to one is an injury to us all.”
  • To work through this crisis together as a United Flight Attendant family. We cannot, in fact, we must affirmatively work to avoid being at odds with each other. Despite all of the “titles” ascribed to our work group, we are first and foremost, United Flight Attendants. Allowing ourselves to be divided into these “numbers” and to be adversarial with each other, only allows management to exploit that division within our group to our collective detriment.

When we come together as a United work group, we can take Scott along for that ride with us. While Scott’s current playbook may have brought about much needed stability to survive during this crisis, we don’t want to just survive, we expect to thrive, together.

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