United Airlines came to an agreement on a contract with its pilots union. The union saw that other airlines were putting richer deals on the table, and the contract wouldn’t have support of the pilot membership, so it was pulled.
CEO Scott Kirby went on television and declared that the richer pilots deal that Delta’s union got was a good thing and would be a pattern for other airlines to match, paying pilots more. He argued higher pilot pay across the industry is great – because it hurts low cost competitors more.
It’s taken awhile to get pilot contracts, but there was a pandemic and frankly the value of a pilot to the industry has fluctuated quite a lot. Pilots weren’t driving profits in 2020! And then, with too many paid to retire, there weren’t enough to bring back as much flying as airlines could sell.
However United even did a deal with pilots during the pandemic to keep them all employed, buying off senior pilots to be able to help both junior pilots and the airline with – among other things – first class seats that used to go to customers as upgrades.
So it wasn’t surprising to see Kirby personally go down to meet picketing pilots during the airline’s board meeting in Houston. And it was a terrible look to see those pilots turn their backs on the CEO. And then for the union to brag about it!
The Company has turned its back on Pilots, today we did the same. 4 Years Past Due! @united@ALPAPilots, @IAMDistrict141 , @afacwa , @iamairtransport#WeAreALPA #unitedpilots #unionstrong #alpapilots #1U #ContractFirstUnitedNext #avgeeks #united #pilot #union pic.twitter.com/XAXfJnNYk8
— United Airlines Pilots (@UnitedPilots) December 8, 2022
Listen to pilots talk publicly, posturing in contract negotiations, it’s a grueling career that no one should want. Privately, though, many realize that they’re hardly the exploited working class, earning six figures and being entrusted with $100 million machines. Flying 80 hours a month is a pretty good job, and many also build side businesses in their time off (insurance is a common one).
There are absolutely legitimate beefs about the pilot lifestyle. If you have a family you spend a lot of time apart from them. If your airline is operationally unsound you wind up in cities you never expected to be flying to. And you may not even get your hotel scheduled properly (take matters into your own hands, book the room yourself, and fight for reimbursement which might take months). The display by United’s pilots, though, when Scott Kirby came personally seeking rapprochement, was seriously unbecoming.
I wonder if union leadership ever watched The West Wing? The Speaker of the House refusing to negotiate – or meet with – President Bartlet was a turning point in the administration’s power, turning public opinion. Remember that United’s comms chief used to be White House spokesman under Obama.