United Confirms It Fired Two Union Leaders For Retaliating Against Flight Attendant Snitch

Sara Nelson is angry. The United Airlines flight attendants union is angry. United fired two flight attendants who were senior union leaders, and they did it because a flight attendant snitched on them – and the union retaliated.

After the flight attendants union sent out an irate memo to cabin crew, offering no specifics on what actually happened, United Airlines followed with a memo of their own – offering details consistent with the story I shared of what happened.

  • The crewmember reported on their senior colleagues
  • Those colleagues apparently solicited false conduct reports against the junior flight attendant in retaliation
  • United uncovered this, and had no choice but to fire the union reps

The union sued United, claiming it isn’t allowed to interfere in these internal union matters. A court dismissed the case. If United didn’t act they’d lose control of their airline to union vigilante justice.

Here’s the memo:

Inflight Services Team,

Yesterday, AFA leadership sent you a communication about the termination of two United flight attendants who also serve as union representatives. Since the AFA has chosen to publicize this, I want to ensure you have all the facts.

This began last year when a fellow United flight attendant raised a legitimate safety concern to United, which led to the discipline of two flight attendants. In response, two union representatives presented unrelated allegations of misconduct by the reporting flight attendant to United, which proved to be completely false. These false reports resulted in a number of investigations over several months. In these investigations, flight attendants revealed that the information against the reporting flight attendant was solicited by the two union representatives.

We do not tolerate retaliation, period. Under the United-AFA CBA and established Company policies, United must investigate allegations of retaliation. Moreover, ANY employee engaged in retaliation will be investigated, and if found in violation of Company policy, will be subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment. There is no exception to this policy nor is there a different standard of conduct for employees who also are Union representatives. In other words, it is not an option to ignore complaints of retaliation – even if the employees who are the subject of the complaints are also union representatives.

The AFA took no action to address the misconduct of their representatives and offered no suggestions other than to have United cease the investigation. They filed a lawsuit last summer in the federal court in Washington, D.C. alleging that United violated the Railway Labor Act by issuing Letters of Investigation to the two flight attendants who also held roles with the AFA Local. The court dismissed their lawsuit in January and found that “the union’s position would provide union
representatives with complete immunity from discipline for acts in violation of the
CBA so long as those violations took place while conducting union duties,” and would, therefore “permit union representatives to retaliate against flight attendants who take disfavored actions.” The court found no support for such a “cloak of immunity.”

We agree. We will make sure that you can report safety concerns without fear of retaliation or consequences. If retaliation is found, we will take action – regardless of who was involved. That’s my commitment to you.

United and the AFA have worked collaboratively through one of the most challenging times in aviation history and will continue to be advocates on our flight attendants’ behalf. I look forward to a good working relationship with the AFA, but our top priority will always be protecting our people.

Sincerely,
John

To be clear, when you work in a union shop, ratting out your colleagues usually doesn’t end well for you. That was a lesson the union leaders tried to teach this flight attendant, it seems. They lost their job. But life probably is still going to be rough for the flight attendant who reported them. If you want to know what it’s like for an employee at United that doesn’t stick with their union, ask any of the pilots who flew during the 1985 strike.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. And this is a prime example of why labor unions, in a day and age where employers can read, write and do math, should be abolished. Negotiate a pay and incentive package and work within the bounds of that agreement between you and your employer.

  2. So much drama and no more average total compensation than non-union Delta flight attendants according to the latest data from the DOT.

  3. The real scoop!
    To all those who were irritated at Gary for the previous related post, haven’t you learned by now Gary will follow up with the real scoop!

  4. Why use the pejorative term “snitch?” Given the allegations were those of being involved in solicitation of fraudulent actions in an area controlled by federal labor law the appropriate term would have been “whistleblower.”

  5. I learned to dislike unions when I was 21 and a newly hired “hostess” with TWA

    When I started traveling again after being vaccinated in Dec 2020 I really thought the FAs were embarrassed by the lack of service, and probably some are. I blamed the airline for the quality of the meals in first class (think “breakfast included” at the Comfort Inn), and one non-alcoholic beverage and a tiny bag of pretzels from Hawaii to DFW in PE. Now I see that all the union’s demands are to decrease tasks once performed by FAs. I suspect the airlines are working on the equivalent of driverless cars–FA-less airplanes. Staff each flight with a paramedic, maybe send them to Brian Horner’s Learn to Return school. and get rid of the headaches.

    The shocking news is that a similar degradation is occurring in the nation’s medical system, but that’s another story.

  6. Rules for thee, not for me.

    If one thing is apparent in society, both modern and historical, it’s that rules are there to control others, not the behavior of our “betters”. How many of the MeToo crew were backing Cuomo? How many Republicans looked the other way at Trump’s multiple foibles? Hunter Biden? Who’s he? Masks? We don’t need no stinking’ masks if we imposed the mandates. Etc.

    Rules are not rules if they don’t apply to everyone equally. Otherwise, they’re just a means to exercise power.

  7. AFA is a joke, it sends out an email notifying us that ” United management took an unbelievable step to fire two union representatives”, but conveniently “forgets” to include the details of this firing, now we know, and they deserve what they got.

  8. @Tim j: If you fly United Airlines, you should care. Ask Dr. Dao about his United Airlines experience.

    At United Airlines, pilots holding grudges for over 35 years and being snooty or haughty to fellow pilots has created a hostile workplace. United Airlines typically has a corporate culture of “safety first.” After a safety concern was submitted against a unionized brother or sister flight attendant, the butt-hurt lower-paid United Airlines employees took out their aggression on a junior union member who raised the safety concern. Furthermore, passengers like Dr. David Dao have suffered the indignation of being physically beaten up until unconscious, then dragged off a United Airlines flight due to inadequate customer service resolution training and skills.

  9. It’s an important cultural message that the organization will have your back when you do the right thing. Cultures of silence have caused crashes. While perhaps the mask issues is politicized, I applaud the CEO for sending a direct message of supporting employees who speak up when they see safety concerns.

  10. @Tim Dunn and most that are against unions. It’s not just about pay! It’s about scope. DL flight attendants overall do get paid well. However, they get can get and DO get jerked around at the company’s will unlike unionized carriers. For those of you that unions should be abolished, you should first start with the Police/Fire Departments, Sports Teams, then tag on your Pilots. Otherwise, shut up about Flight Attendant Unions. You probably don’t know what you are talking about.

  11. Self-evacuating airlines cannot come fast enough. Then these worthless unions won’t have to worry about how their members can do less and less work and go out of existence.

  12. AA’s dream plan, we fire Kirby, UA hires Kirby and we move up to the two number just behind DL in satisfaction. . . and the plan is working. All the seat back screens in the world can’t fix this airlines.

  13. From Adam Smith – The Wealth of Nations : “We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate […] Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people”. In contrast, when workers combine, “the masters […] never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and journeymen.”

  14. So glad I am retired from that pettiness. . To be clear there are FA out there that keep their cameras available at any moment to take pics of senior FA trying to get them fired. It’s all about seniority.When I started you never tattled on another FA. You addressed it, worked it out and moved on. Now it’s like playing in a sandbox!

  15. The snitching FA could have tried addressing their concerns with the offending crewmembers and/or the purser and if that didn’t work they should have used Professional Standards (the avenue that the union has set up to deal with exactly these type issues so no one loses their job.) This tells me that the snitching FA had an opposing union political agenda or an anti-union agenda against the two FAs they reported. Sara Nelson is right to be outraged! This was a small, nit-picking accusation, not a major safety violation and if it wasn’t this, it sounds like the snitching FA would have found something else since they were obviously on a witch hunt.

  16. Camile says it all. I am a retired UA flight attendant and proud AFA member. This didn’t need to happen if the reporting F/A reported it to Professional Standards. And I was proud as well to work for United (even in the days they told us there was no problem with passengers smoking on board—the air filtration system made it perfectly safe!)

  17. Those of you defending union leaders encouraging others to make false allegations against this crewmember – shame on you!! You’re embarrassing yourselves, and making a mockery of your union.

  18. Gary, you’re missing the whole point. Where is your concern about the origin of the whole situation? It was politically (union, not government) motivated. This is what happens when passengers (yes, you are just a PASSENGER) try to get involved in things you know nothing about!

  19. I think that using the term “snitch” was unnecessary. Otherwise if you’re looking for a loaded word, why not use “traitor”?

    Unions serve an invaluable role in counterbalancing corporate greed. With big companies in a modern society they’re critical to at least try to mitigate the super rich becoming even richer while normal people lose out. That said, union members, and most certainly officials, must act like adults. The union in this case absolutely did not, instead choosing shameful behavior wherever possible.

  20. Camile, sorry but I think it’s you that’s missing the whole point – “just a PASSENGER”!!! This says it all in my opinion and why customer focused companies will win every time. United and other companies that are so self-absorbed have some hard lessons ahead I think.

  21. Those union defenders are something!
    “They should have gone to Professional Standards..,”. They don’t realize how disgusting they sound to normal people, like Tony Soprano explaining that “we wash our own dirty laundry”.
    Sara Nelson’s goons were ever eager to kick out a family because a two-year-old with special needs wouldn’t keep a mask on, supposedly in the name of Covid safety. But when it’s senior members of the union family, dropping one’s mask is, apparently, “minor”.

  22. I’m a Delta flight attendant for 25 yrs now. I’m glad that we don’t have that kind of drama and power trip people for our in-flight dept. Yes, we are still union free and hope to keep it that way! Thanks for flying with Delta!! We appreciate you all!!!

  23. Unions have their hands in the company’s pocket and vice versa they …. you gotta keep those higher ups in the union fed…. ” if” this fa that said something would’ve went to pro standards and your union higher ups get wind, she then has a bullseye on her head and trust me she would’ve been gone…..the union higher ups like their cushy pay job … however if you see something inappropriate with them you better not say something…

  24. Tina Eng don’t get me started with delta drama please don’t make it seem like delta is all puppies and rainbows it’s not let’s me honest here

  25. Proverbs 16:18
    Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

    The flight attendants got what was coming to them. What a costly and sad lesson they had to learn the hard way. The writing was on the wall when the district court ruled in favor of UA. All current and future leaders of the AFA, as well as all UA FAs should heed this warning and direction UA will take to protect their inflight colleagues.

  26. Wow…on so many levels. FAs regularly berate passengers for not complying with mask mandates….but its OK for them to ignore the rules. Safety…in this case mandated mask compliance…and being Safety Professionals .purportedly paramount to AFA is suddenly not important when its applies to their own. When called out, leadership retort to.mafia like practices of intimidation. Arrgghh….so a couple of entitled FAs didn’t wear a mask….write them up and be done with it! Instead the union goes after the reporter of the violations….how wrong is this?? Kudos to the company for sticking by their safety first position…regardless of party. And go on the record for not tolerating retaliation… It would be really interesting to a get a peek into what AFAs Professional Standards EAP records show about other activities. I’m inclined to believe the AFA is more like the old East German Stasi than an organization committed to the welfare of its whole membership and not just its elite echelon

  27. “This was a small, nit-picking accusation, not a major safety violation” Camile, are you crazy? Passengers get kicked off airplanes for not masking up and you think this isn’t a safety violation? Never ever had good flight service on United and I am glad these 2 FAs are fired. If you are not interested to serve and want to work less under the guise of safety, leave! You get amazing service everywhere in the US except on legacy US airlines.

  28. This is what happens when passengers (yes, you are just a PASSENGER) try to get involved in things you know nothing about!

    I think this message sums up FA in this dispute and why they treat passengers with complete disgust.

  29. hilarious, insulting passengers and claiming we know nothing about issues like this. Passengers are customers who pay for their tickets and should receive a decent level of service on board to get form point A to point B.

    Perbinder, Pls educate us then. Tell us why most Gulf and Asian airlines are able to have amazing service onboard just like most other service oriented jobs in the US. No self respecting passenger would choose to fly a legacy us carrier as opposed to an Asian and Gulf carrier if we have a choice. Glad to see all these relics get fired and kicked out. They have 0 interest in service and should not be any customer facing position. Fire all these non performing idiots. You don’t want to work, someone eles will. I can’t tell you how many times I have flown long haul on United on every class and FAs just disappear right after a single meal service and not reappear until landing. Trash

  30. John I was replying to the asinine comment made above.

    I am not staff. I am a passenger from the uk and never travel on any US based airline as I don’t trust the staff. Also only travel BA because of the 2 for 1 vouchers. I far prefer the ME3 over the rest.

  31. While unions like here are in the wrong, people like in the comments here who claim unions should be abolished are in the wrong imo. Generally an employer will have more power than employees just due to the nature that finding a worker is easier in most cases than finding a job and unions are designed to counter this disadvantage by employees.

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