Nearly All Of Those Casting Ballots Supported 'Withdrawal Of Services' If Required
Pilots at legacy United Airlines and legacy Continental Airlines have overwhelmingly authorized a legal withdrawal of service pursuant to the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Nearly 94% (93.9%) of the eligible pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), took part in the ballot, with 99% voting in support of a withdrawal of services, if required. This authorization comes after two years of negotiations for a new joint pilot contract following the merger of United and Continental, announced May 2010. If the National Mediation Board (NMB) concludes that further mediated negotiations will not produce an agreement, it could release both sides into economic self-help after the expiration of a 30-day cooling-off period, at which point a strike could ensue.
"The strength of this vote clearly indicates the level of frustration our pilots have with management's disinterest in reaching a conclusion to negotiations," said Captain Jay Pierce, chairman of the ALPA unit representing the Continental pilots. Our pilots are tired of management's lack of progress with the merger and the damage to our airline that grows every day. Management would be wise to note the resolve of their pilots and to reconsider the substantial benefits that can be obtained by working with us. The merger cannot be completed and the synergies will not be fully realized without completed labor contracts. A strike is never the preferred path to reaching agreement, but our pilots have demonstrated that they realize it may be necessary."
Captain Jay Heppner, chairman of the United Master Executive Council, remarked, "Over the last decade, pilots made several major sacrifices to help the airline survive and management has done absolutely nothing to restore those sacrifices. In fact, they have done the opposite by offshoring and outsourcing our jobs at the very same time they have given themselves millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and perks. When management makes decisions based on their own needs instead of the needs of customers and employees, the company suffers, which is what is happening today. If a strike is what it is going to take to wake up the company's leadership, the pilots are prepared to act."
The vote by pilots followed multiple letters from ALPA to the National Mediation Board (NMB) in May and June, requesting that the NMB assist the parties to bring about an agreement by proffering arbitration, and if not accepted by both parties, issuing a release under Section 5, First of the Act. If the NMB releases the parties to what is referred to as "self-help," the pilots would be allowed to take lawful action, including a strike, following a 30-day cooling off period. The pilots are involved in joint negotiations for a labor contract that will cover pilots at both airlines, are wholly dissatisfied with the pace of the talks. The parties initiated negotiations in May 2010. The parties jointly requested mediation by the NMB in December 2010 and mediated negotiations were initiated on February 28, 2011. The parties have been in mediated bargaining since that time.
There was, however, a touch of good news on the labor front for United. The airline announced Tuesday that it has reached a tentative agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) covering flight attendants from the company's Continental Micronesia (CMI) subsidiary.
The agreement extends the current collective bargaining agreement through December 2014. Flight attendants will vote on the agreement in the coming weeks.
"We appreciate the leadership exhibited by the CMI AFA MEC President Suzanne Hendricks and her negotiating committee," said Sam Risoli, senior vice president of inflight. "With this agreement in place, our CMI flight attendants will receive improved pay and benefits while we move forward to focus on a single contract that is sustainable and rewards our employees for their hard work."
Flight attendants from the company's United subsidiary ratified a new four-year contract in February 2012, and flight attendants from the Continental subsidiary ratified an extension of their collective bargaining agreement last week.