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.
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.