United Airlines Pilots Picket In Newark Over Contract Negotiations
December 15, 2022
BY JOE KUNZLER, Simple Flying
On December 14, at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) Terminal C, United Airlines pilots held an informational picket to protest “stalling at the bargaining table,” according to United Master Executive Council chair Capt. Mike Hamilton.
Upset with pace of bargaining
In a statement, Hamilton made clear his union’s issue was the stalling and that informational picketing would show unity of support for a contract;
“Management has chosen to delay the conclusion of our negotiations. Our informational picketing sends management the message that United pilots are unified, and we’ve waited long enough for a contract. Continued stalling at the bargaining table puts the company’s growth plans at risk and hinders the airline’s overall goal of being the best in the world.”
On November 1, the union rejected the offer. That offer would have increased pay by about 15% over the next year and a half. When the contract was rejected, Hamilton said the company admitted the proposed agreement failed to meet expectations, although he noted that both parties agreed to reengage at the bargaining table for a new, improved agreement. Nonetheless, in that same statement, a pledge was made to, “immediately begin” informational picketing.
Hence a series of informational picketing events, with the latest at Newark International on December 14 – a key base for United Airlines’ operations. In fact, according to United Airlines, it’s the top international flight initiator, with 78 international destinations served by the airline from Newark Liberty.
United Airlines Union Coalition
On December 7, all five unions representing United Airlines workers – aircraft dispatchers, flight attendants, machinists, pilots, and technicians – announced the formation of a coalition. According to their joint announcement, the intent is to “coordinate closely on bargaining and other issues” so that all the unions have contracts that “have more than earned our fair share of the profits we create.”
Informational picket has a photogenic encounter with CEO
Also on December 7, the coalition held an informational picket outside the airline’s Board of Directors meeting in Houston, Texas. The picket turned interesting when United Airlines Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Scott Kirby came out to greet the picketers. The picketers turned their back on their airline’s CEO.
Why? In the words of the pilots’ union spokesman First Officer Paul Ryder,
“We appreciate United CEO Scott Kirby visiting our picket. United did not respond to our previous offer, so we pulled that off the table to examine what our competitors have done. If you want to talk now, you can do so at the bargaining table with something better than what was offered elsewhere. And, Mr. Kirby, you can’t lead from the back. We’re still tired of waiting.”
In contrast, Alaska Airlines came to a historic agreement with its pilots with 82% ratification. Delta’s proposed contract is in the ratification process now that an agreement in principle has been reached. Spirit also is in the same tentative agreement situation.
Kirby did attempt to defend his negotiating patience the day before telling Reuters his thoughts regarding Delta’s tentative agreement with its pilots. Kirby considered Delta Air Lines' tentative agreement "a rich contract” that will set the standard to move forward. However, Kirby warned that even though ticket prices are at a historic low and “best value for your travel” after taking inflation into account...
"...the biggest news for an investor perspective is cost convergence in the industry means that what is different now is all the low cost carriers are going to have come up to these much higher pay rates. This is going to wind up like oil prices -- it's going to be a pass-through."
Clearly, Kirby was speaking of Southwest Airlines, which is in protracted negotiations with its pilots and flight attendants, for starters. Southwest Airlines prides itself on low fares.
In the context of United’s aircraft order and service cutbacks
All of these developments are in the context of United Airlines placing a historic order earlier this week for 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft plus an option for 100 more, as per above. The airline will likely order a mix of all three Boeing 787 models.
This is coupled with 44 options for 737 MAX family aircraft converted to firm orders and 56 new orders for Boeing 737 MAX family aircraft. All 737 MAX aircraft will be delivered by 2028. The order also has made the weekly Simple Flying podcast which is available where you get your podcasts as per below.
The aforementioned United Airlines Union Coalition gave a rebuke of this aircraft order saying in part,
“We recognize the potential value in this announcement for working people with new aircraft manufactured in the U.S., but the proof is in the pudding with our contract negotiations. It's about the kind of jobs this creates at United Airlines and the jobs that support its operation. It’s time United Airlines management get serious at the negotiating table to reach contracts that reflect the value of the work of the people who make United fly.”
Furthermore, United Airlines has removed 36 airports from its network. The 36 airports are mostly small US airports that were not wokring out for United Airlines, especially with a controversial pilot shortage and the phasing out of small regional jets.
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Ultimately ALPA pilot groups want “a fair share”
On December 12, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) sponsored an op-ed in Politico. In the op-ed, the leading representative for more than 67,000 pilots at 40 US and Canadian airlines made clear that its pilot groups have members that were very helpful during the pandemic both in providing essential services and in lobbying Congress for federal assistance. As a result,
"As is true for all workers, erratic and unrealistic scheduling practices can cause fatigue and compromise pilots’ quality of life both on the job and at home. Such practices must end. When airlines are making record revenue, pilots and other workers should also earn a fair share of their company’s financial success — just as we stepped forward to shoulder the sacrifice."
It’s worth noting that some of ALPA’s pilot groups are still negotiating contracts, such as FedEx, JetBlue, and United. Simple Flying will monitor developments.