Jan. 23--While United Continental Holdings reported strong profits on Thursday and said it was getting past integration hiccups after its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, it still doesn't have joint labor deals with all its unions.
Most recently, that has led to strife with its flight attendants.
United last week said it would place 688 flight attendants on involuntary furlough April 1 because it had too many United flight attendants but sometimes too few on the Continental side. The two sets of flight attendants belong to the same national union, the Association of Flight Attendants, but work separately under different union contracts as talks continue with United on a joint labor deal.
The company said too few pre-merger United flight attendants participated in voluntary furloughs and job-sharing, giving the airline excess. Meanwhile, the airline hired 485 on the Continental side in 2013.
As an alternative to furloughing the nearly 700 workers, the company offered plans to allow United flight attendants to "cross over" to the Continental side, and start with low seniority. However, the United flight attendant union found the terms unacceptable and rejected the offers, offering its own solutions while claiming furloughs weren't even necessary.
Then this week, the company sidestepped the United flight attendant union to cut a deal with the Continental union to allow a crossover. The deal makes involuntarily furloughed United flight attendants eligible to apply for positions with the Continental side of the company and retain seniority for purposes of pay and vacation accrual, but not other seniority benefits. They would work under the existing Continental contract.
That has the United AFA furious at airline management and displeased with its union counterpart on the Continental side.
"Cutting backroom deals, with the intent of duping United flight attendants, is not the path to unity and success," Greg Davidowitch, president of the United Master Executive Council, told members in a message Thursday.
United called the offer "a good outcome for flight attendants, the company and our customers."
"Allowing flight attendants who wish to work the opportunity to do so is definitely the right thing," said Sam Risoli, United senior vice president of inflight services, in a letter to flight attendants this week.
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Deal allows United flight attendants to "cross over" to the Continental side yet retain and accrue seniority, pay and vacation.
United Airlines and one of its unions struck a deal to avoid April 1 layoffs of nearly 700 flight attendants
Even if the leaders of United and Continental agree to merge their airlines, the hard work of combining two work forces with different unions and conflicting interests will remain.
The history of the airline industry is littered with cases in which peace in the boardroom was followed by rancor among co-workers at 30,000 feet.