United flight attendants reject pay cuts
By Dave Carpenter
CHICAGO A day after United Airlines settled its last unresolved labor contract, its second-biggest union signaled a tougher battle ahead yesterday in announcing that it won't participate in concession talks considered key to the carrier's recovery effort.
The Association of Flight Attendants, representing 26,000 United employees, said it delivered the same uncompromising message to CEO Jack Creighton in a meeting of union officials Thursday.
Creighton expressed disappointment in the flight attendants' statement, which he called premature. He said the meeting overall had been "useful and productive."
The remarks were among a flurry of statements issued by key parties yesterday on the sensitive issue of pay concessions by the 84,000 employees of the nation's No. 2 airline.
In a positive sign for United's leaders, the powerful pilots' union said it had agreed to work with the airline to develop a recovery program and would discuss reducing labor costs as part of a "solid business plan."
But the union representing the most United employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, boycotted the headquarters session. Its officials said they weren't willing to discuss a recovery plan until the tentative contract agreement announced Thursday night for United ground workers is final. The ratification vote is May 10.
Like the IAM, the flight attendants disputed the company's characterization of high costs as the reason for financial woes at United, which hasn't turned a profit since 2000.
"We continue to advocate that they focus on the revenue side of the equation and not simply focus on cost-cutting," said Greg Davidowitch, president-elect of the United flight attendants' council. "It hasn't been demonstrated that flight attendants taking pay cuts is going to solve the problems of the company."
The flight attendants are the only major employee group at United not to have been granted industry-leading wages in the past 1 1/2 years, primarily because they agreed to a nine-year contract in 1997. They failed in efforts to get a mid-contract pay hike.
The union says it won't consider further pay "sacrifices" since their pay already lags behind that of other United employees.
"Negotiating concessions would mean we accept that inequality as fair, and we do not," Davidowitch said.
The flight attendants' raises are dependent upon yearly wage reviews by an arbitrator that ensure their pay keeps up with the industry average.