Topic of the Week: United Takes Negotiations to the Public


United is putting its pilot negotiations out in public for all to see. Is this a smart move? The union says that the airline was warned by the National Mediation Board not to go public. So why is United doing this?

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23 comments on “Topic of the Week: United Takes Negotiations to the Public

  1. I’m a commercial mediator and I don’t think this is a good idea. Negotiation is full of give and take, posturing and puffery. This game is not for public consumption. The public is not sitting at the table and other than needing the flight/cargo services of UA, they have little to no stake in the outcome. I’m guessing UA wants to gain public sentiment and support/pressure in their efforts, after all, pilots are well compensated. In a bad economy, any demands the pilots make will seem greedy to the public.

    1. If anything, they’re probably taking a chance people will become sympathetic to their plight.

  2. I don’t know anything about this but off hand I would think it’s just to get people hitting Twitter and Facebook to down greedy pilots and feel sorry for United.

    That kind of goes with yesterdays blog…

  3. Never underestimate Jeff Smisek’s ability to behave like a caveman. People who have been decades long Continental advocates/customers are fleeing in droves.

  4. This could certainly backfire on UAL management if the general public learns that one of the key demands of the pilots involves protection from outsourcing of pilot jobs to lower-paid domestic commuter airlines and foreign carriers through code-sharing agreements. American are getting fed up with having their jobs shipped both overseas and to lower-paid non-union workers in parts of the country where right-to-work laws make unions weak.

  5. Poor United/Continental management! (Insert sarcasm here)….

    I read with interest about Mr. Smiseks 40% pay raise when the merger was announced, and that was “okay” with him and the BOD.

    Now that the Pilots want a “raise” (not really a raise, only a giveback of what they gave a few years ago when the company asked their union for relief.) Mr. Smisek says “Its not a good time and you will not get a raise.” He claims he wants to be “fair”……Fair is paying the pilots that generate the revenue for Untied. Mr. Smisek, you got a 40% increase, how about giving the pilots the same….seems fair to this paying customer!

  6. That proposal is a complete joke. One of the first bullet points is that they want to outsource another 250 airplanes, carrying 90+ people, to the lower paid and less experienced regional pilots. This will not be allowed under any circumstances. The traveling public deserves to get on a United airplane with United pilots at the controls. If they want those airplanes, then United pilots will fly them.

    Thank you Jeff for publishing this proposal. You have single handedly united this pilot group in record time.

    1. I don’t see where they want to add an additional 250 jets.. it looks like that’s just the cap for United Express. I’d be curious to see how many CRJ-700s and EMB 170s are presently operating for UA.

  7. It all depends on how much you trust management and their ethics. At airlines like Delta, you can actually do that. So even though their management makes a lot, they also care about the company and the employees.

    At UA/CO (particularly in the last few years with Tilton), not so much trust, so union protection is actually needed.

  8. Well this tactic sure isn’t going to make the pilots feel that having Continental leadership running the show (instead of the old hard ass UAL team with Tilton) is going to make much of a difference in terms of improving what could only be characterized as hostile Union/Management relations.

    The public isn’t going to care one way or the other about this document. I tried reading it. I got bored three pages in by all the airline/pilot speak I couldn’t decode.

  9. Gordon wrote the book “From Worst to First” for Continental. Mr. Smisek seems to writing the book, “From First to Worst” for the new United. I guess Harvard Law may make you book smart, but when it comes to understanding the employees, he doesn’t seem to have a clue.

  10. Probably to make the pilots look greedy. UA will highlight the six figure salaries at the top end of the pay scale and seemingly rich union benefits packages to try and stoke the “what the $&*!# are they complaining about, those pilots make 4 times what I do AND get their health insurance paid for!!!” sympathy vote. Whether it’s a legitimate point or not is debatable, but I guess they’re hoping to tap into the tea party-type fervor and get public opinion on their side, as they attempt to tar and feather the pilots’ union in the same manner Republicans did the public employee unions last November.

    Will it work? Doubt it, because 1) as Doug mentioned, I don’t see the public getting all that riled up about a contract proposal that’s largely incomprehensible, and 2) the unions can demagogue executive bonuses just as effectively as management can demagogue rich union benefits packages (as you’re already seeing in the comments thread).

  11. Sometimes it is how you negotiate and not what you negotiate affects the morale and trust between management and employee.

    By going public with the terms, it will affect employee’s trust in management and it legitimacy to manage. This in turn affects all aspects in running a quality based airline including customer service and safety.

    As a result, any turn-around effort proposed by Smisek may be negated by the employees. One only needs to be reminded how Frank Lorenzo contentious relationship with Eastern Airlines employees eventually led it into obscurity.

  12. the public needs to see how the labor unions perform .. they are the bad guys …so many people have no jobs and they have good ones and too many benefits remember the labor unions gave obama 400 million to get elected and the teachers union gave 80 million …and look at what is happening with boeing trying to open up a new plant in a non-madatory union state,,,,for shame…

  13. They want to get the negotiations moving early. You know from talking to job actions ( Oh hell I’ll call in sick. ATC to a UA/CO flight “123 would you like direct LAX? Nah we will stay on the route”). I used to work for an airline that paid profit sharing. The Captains got as much as the managers, because “They had the most influence on day to day operations” was the president’s thinking.

  14. I don’t think it is a smart idea to negotiate in public. The Public is very fickle, and what might be good for management today, might well turn out to be bad for management in the eyes of the public tomorrow.

    Having said that, I don’t see an agreement anytime soon. There just isn’t much incentive on the management side. Both contracts are ‘concessionary’ at the moment, and it is in management’s best interests to keep costs as low as possible for as long as possible. Whether the pilots will get anywhere near what they are asking for is anybodies guess, but it is a safe bet they aren’t going to accept the status quo once the current contracts expire, epecially if the company remains profitable.

    So to make a long story short, I don’t see any chance of significant progress on a new contract until either the existing UA and/or CO contract expires. I will be surprised if there isn’t a strike once a contract expires, and the provisions of the RLA allow it (which isn’t any time soon).

  15. Matthew: Both the CAL and UAL pilot contracts are “amendable,” meaning their specified duration ended long ago. However, contracts negotiated undere the Railway Labor Act don’t “expire” as do labor agreements bargained under the Wagner Act. Their terms continue until the NMB declares an impasse, profers binding arbitration (which can be refused by either side), and a 30-day cooling off period begins. At the end of that time, if the President doesn’t delcare a presidential emergency board, labor can strike and management can either lock out the employees or impose its last offer. Like you, I don’t see much hope for a settlement in the current situation, and only the Obama administration’s reluctance to allow pilots from the world’s largest airline to impact the economy with a strike stands in the way of a very significant labor confrontation.

  16. Most of the comments above seem to assume that United is trying to sway public opinion. Perhaps that isn’t the audience, but rather it’s the membership(s) of the pilots union(s). Perhaps United doesn’t feel that the union has been communicating the substance of the offer to the membership. While it’s an aggressive tactic, if United feels that what they’re offering is attractive but it’s not getting fair consideration… Obviously it won’t make union leadership happy.

    Why was there an election for which union would represent the FAs but there isn’t something similar for the pilots?

  17. Carl, the Continental pilots and United pilots are already represented by the same union, The Airline Pilots Association. There is no need for an election.

    1. Eventhough CO/UAL pilots may share membership in the same larger union, the union locals and agreements may be different between the two companies.

    2. It’s disappointing to me that they are taking so long to reach an agreement. You say it’s one union, but usually a significant portion of the delay in a case like this is that it really is two unions, two leaderships, two sets of priorities, etc. If they and agree on what’s most important to them, and get personalities out of the way, then they should be able to forge an agreement. But it doesn’t seem like there’s much progress – which may be why the airline published their proposal – to force some movement. We don’t want this to turn out like the US Air situation.

  18. As a front end driver I want a good Contract….I understand the Customer Service Agents and Reservations Agents will be voting for a union. If there dumb to vote out the union then we as pilots should be able to clean up at the table because a lot more cash will be there for the taking….

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