July 17, 2015
I want to start off this week’s message by thanking you for your work, patience and professionalism. This has been a particularly tough six-week period, and you’ve responded with consummate professionalism that makes me proud to be a part of your team. In addition to the worst weather in our hubs we've seen in five years, we battled an unusually high volume of maintenance write ups in June and a two-hour network connectivity issue earlier this month. Consequently, the operation hasn’t lived up to anyone’s expectations and, as a result, you were impacted by delays, cancellations and problems securing hotel rooms. Despite this, you continued to do your jobs well and to take care of our customers. So, thank you. I’m proud of the job you’re doing.
We’re working hard to improve our operational reliability and the operation is definitely improving, but it’s also true that finalizing and then implementing a joint collective agreement for flight attendants will help. Once we finally get to the point where all flight attendants belong to a single work group - with the same scheduling rules and the same working conditions, with the ability to fly whatever aircraft, positions, lines and pairings their seniority can hold, and with expanded flexibility through trip trading - life will get better. Along with this, a new joint agreement will ensure everyone gets a pay raise.
What this will also mean is change, and that’s the tough part. We’ve been working with AFA for more than a year developing ways to take three diverse cultures with very different contracts and combine everyone under a single agreement that will allow us to become the new United Inflight Services. It’s not easy, and at times it can be frustrating. Even working together collaboratively and with the best intentions, it’s difficult to find solutions that work for each group of flight attendants and the company.
With that said, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. Looking back at where we started, we’ve frankly come a long way. We began negotiations for a joint agreement in December 2012, but negotiations over the subsequent 18 months were far from collaborative. Predictably, we made little progress.
In July 2014, however, a new alignment among the AFA MEC presidents led to a fresh approach that focused on results. Putting you first, United and AFA began the facilitated-problem solving negotiation process. Collectively, we enlisted the help of the National Mediation Board and began working together to identify and address flight attendant issues. Just two months later, United and AFA announced an unprecedented $100,000 early out program and the recall of all voluntary and involuntary furloughees. Now, we’re hiring at a rapid pace to meet the operational needs for both s-CO and s-UA flying. This is good for everyone.
We’ve been bargaining productively for almost a year. We’ve achieved a lot, and we’ve still got a long way to go. Reaching agreement continues to be challenging, and achieving a final agreement by our original target date appears unlikely. As negotiations get more difficult, there’s a tendency to fall back into defensive positions and point fingers. That’s understandable, but not helpful, and doesn’t enhance our ability to get a deal.
This week parties have addressed scheduling sections. The many other sub-committees utilized for specific sections under the facilitated problem-solving process have been consolidated into a single “open items” committee, which is similarly working through the details and trying to find solutions for each issue that has not yet been tentatively agreed. My own efforts have been focused on coordinating the activities of these groups and developing the comprehensive economic framework we provided to the JNC. Working with our labor relations team, the Inflight team and I remain closely involved in assessing the discussions and respective proposals every single day.
Looking to the future, I see a period of challenges and changes followed by a new era of significant improvements for you. Flight attendants and management will need to adjust to different contractual rules and working conditions, and we’ll need to work through system integration issues during implementation of a new joint agreement. While we’ve already begun planning and preparing to meet these challenges, make no mistake: the changes will not occur overnight, and at times they’ll test everyone’s patience. But the end result will make it all worthwhile.
Just as you’ve seen significant product improvements over the past several years - with new aircraft, upgraded interiors, more lie-flat seats, new menus onboard, and state of the art applications for customers - I envision the work environment for you undergoing similar improvements. We’re taking a major step in that direction with Link, which will eventually revolutionize how we communicate and support each of you, and help empower you in the job you do every day. And, as we become one unified, integrated work group under a new contract, life will be better for everyone.
Finally, with industry consolidation and sustained profitability providing the resources necessary for airlines to escape the boom/bust/bankruptcy cycles of the past, the flight attendant career will be more stable and more rewarding. There isn’t any question that we want to pay you more, provide improved benefits and ensure that each time you come to work you are well-rested, informed and ready to give your very best in the interests of safety and customer service. We want you to enjoy coming to work and we want you to be proud to work at United.
How we develop an industry leading contract that balances the trade-offs in pay, benefits and productivity within a single contract that’s competitive is the core issue we’re trying to solve by working together with AFA. We acknowledge that our co-workers at AFA are dealing with a difficult situation, which requires balancing the interests of each flight attendant group. We understand this and are attempting to find solutions that create the right balance. Despite the many challenges, we have to keep working through the issues to get there.
Thanks for all you do. I’m proud to work with you and be a part of your team.