Airline Unions Strike Over Troubled Contract Negotiations


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United Continental Holdings was hit with a large union protest Wednesday over an ongoing contract dispute, which the airline has grappled with since a 2010 merger.

United Airlines and Continental Airlines have negotiated contracts with several large unions since merging in 2010. Airlines hire a wide range of employees and thus often work with many different types of unions. The AFL-CIO and Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) setup a picket line among the union protest Wednesday.

“An airline is about people, and customer service starts with the people who deliver it and keep our passengers safe,” AFA leadership said in a statement. “United Flight Attendants will stand together to be recognized and call on United management to finish this merger with a contract we can ratify. Contract now.”

AFA notes the picket line was to pressure the airline to finally negotiate a contract, and the airline’s President Oscar Munoz responded to the protests by noting the contracts remain a top priority. Munoz was named president Sept. 8 — when the dispute was still ongoing — after former President Jeff Smisek resigned while under investigation for federal corruption charges.

“It is important that we win back the trust of employees first, then customers,” Munoz said during the shareholder meeting, reports Chicago Tribune. AFA President Sara Nelson admitted negotiations have been much better since Smisek left.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also joined the protest to oppose what it claims is unfair treatment of airline contractors. The union is demanding contractors receive higher wages, better benefits like healthcare, improved training and a safer workplace. It also accused the airline of harassment and intimidation.

The National Mediation Board scheduled two weeks of negotiations in June. The federal board hopes the two sides will reach a joint collective bargaining agreement for flight attendants. The airline reached a two-year contract extension Jan. 22 with the Air Line Pilots Association. It also reached an agreement Feb. 16 with the Professional Airline Flight Control Association.

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