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United Pilots Are ‘Not Close’ On Contract, But Talks Will Ramp Up

Date: March 8, 2023

United Pilots Are ‘Not Close’ On Contract, But Talks Will Ramp Up

By Ted Reed, Forbes

Published on March 4, 2023

While Delta pilots have signed a new contract and American pilots appear to be moving quickly towards one, United pilots appear to be lagging.

“We are not close,” Garth Thompson, chair of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, wrote in a letter to pilots on Thursday. ALPA represents 14,000 United pilots. “Executive comments imply that our proposal and your union representation are overreaching and unreasonable,” he wrote.

In an interview on Friday, Thompson said, “Right now the principal issue is that senior management does not seem to have an accurate understanding of what it will take for our pilots to vote for an agreement.” He said that “polite conversations,” between representatives of the two sides, whether they occur in chance meetings, captain upgrade classes or standard meetings between management and pilots “don’t give an accurate picture of what the pilot group” expects from its next contract.

Last month, the two sides met in Denver for nearly two weeks. “On Feb. 10, we gave the company a proposal that we feel is very much in line with membership direction and with what we think it will take to reach an agreement,” Thompson said.

“Their counter offer is far apart,” he said. “ A lot of the difference is on quality of life, a high priority for this pilot group.” Specific issues include “more flexibility and fewer schedule disruptions as far as reassignments on days off” and improvements in the reserve system, where the quality of life is particularly low, he said. About 20% of United pilots are on reserve.

While the Delta pilot contract, which took effect Thursday, is widely viewed as a template for the other two global airlines, American pilots said Thursday they expect something better, and Thompson said the United contract should be “ahead of Delta.”

“There’s some provisions where we feel ours can and will be better than Delta,” he said. “In the company proposals, some aren’t as good as Delta.”

In a prepared statement issued Friday, United said, “We are continuing to work with the Air Line Pilots Association to reach an industry-leading labor agreement for our world-class aviators soon.”

This month, the two sides have an aggressive negotiation schedule, particularly during the week of March 13. Preceding that, some negotiations took place this week, and some are scheduled for next week, both virtual and in person in Chicago.

“Our CEO has said on more than one occasion that he believes it can be done in a few weeks,” Thompson said. “We are nowhere near. We can reach an agreement in the next several days or in months. We’ve made some improvements on scheduling, but we still remain far apart on some other scheduling provisions, on issues related to health care and also on economic items.”

United contract talks have taken a difficult course. In June, negotiators tentatively agreed to a 14% pay increase. That deal quickly unraveled as 14% was seen as far too low. (Delta pilots will recieve 34% over four years.) In November, in a contract vote, 94% of pilots were against it. Subsequently, the chairman of the master executive committee resigned due to a family health emergency; his successor resigned after two days on the job due to controversial posts on social media. Thompson, a Denver-based A320 captain with 30 years at United, took over in January.

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