United Airlines attendants threaten to disrupt merger
By Carola Schlagheck in Chicago
Published: September 26 2000 22:28GMT | Last Updated: September 26 2000 22:53GMT
Flight Attendants at United Airlines, the world's largest airline, on Tuesday threatened to disrupt the planned merger with US Airways, its east-coast rival, unless demands for higher salaries were met.
The union has significant leverage. Severe service disruptions this summer have already made United Airlines the target of heavy public criticism, and any further problems, while regulators review the merger, would be extremely unwelcome.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) also claims that language in the United flight attendant contract prevents United from owning and operating any other airline without the explicit agreement of the flight attendants. In addition, AFA threatens to refuse to provide United with a seniority list after the merger, which could present operational difficulties.
United's pilots have already achieved an industry-leading contract which will be voted on next month. This has encouraged the airline's other employee groups to also push for higher renumeration. Flight attendants are currently working under a 10-year contract negotiated in 1997.
On Monday James Goodwin, United CEO, agreed to some of the union's demands involving compensation for contract violations in the course of this summer. Talks on the pay issues were scheduled for next Tuesday.
Patricia Friend, AFA International President, said that if the UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, proceeded with the merger without the union's support, it would experience "chaos". The union would take any legally-permitted action, "including making a nuisance of ourselves". Strikes were not likely, but picketing is scheduled for Wednesday at the Chicago O'Hare airport.
United Airlines said it would work constructively with AFA to assure a smooth transition.
The merger needs approval from EU and US competition regulators.