As one of the IAM (International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) represented employees at United, I can see that the problem that my union has with the company is not stated in the posted media report. We know United is in trouble. However, the company can not be saved if only one employee group is forced to give concessions. United mechanics, ramp service, and customer service employees are paid much less than their counterparts at Delta, American, and Southwest.
All employees, including management, pilots, flight attendants, and IAM represented employees must be asked for equal consessions. The problem is that the IAM represented employees are working under the 1994 ESOP agreement. ALL of the other employee groups have had large raises in the last two years. In other words, every day I make 23% less than my counter-parts at Delta and AA. Don't ask me to give up any more until you have cut management's pay and have re-opened the pilots and flight attendants contracts. It is not greed, only fairness.
I would also like to point out that due to the labor laws that govern the U.S. airline industry (The Railway Labor Act), most contracts are reached within the 30-day cooling off period. For those of you not familiar with this law, let me explain it. Under the Railway Labor Act union-management agreements do not expire after the last day of the contract. They become "amendable" at that time if both the union and the company reach an agreement on a new contract. If the parties are unable to reach a new contract the old one just continues while negotiations continue. If the parties are unable to reach a negotiated agreement, then federal mediators are called in to assist in the negotiations. If mediated talks fail to reach an agreement, then the company and the union are both offered "binding arbitration". This means that a third party would decide who gets what. If either side declines binding arbitration the 30 day cooling off period begins. At the end of the 30 day cooling off period, the company can impose a new contract and the union is free to strike. The President may extend the 30 day cooling off period by 60 more days by appointing an emergency board to examine the issues in the dispute. If there is no agreement at the end of the 60 day extension, then congress can force a settlement. Congress has never settled an airline dispute. So after all of this, the President has extended the possible strike date by 60 days.
This antique law just streches negotiations out for years. All airlines seem to use stall tactics to delay new agreements and to save money. This in turn leads to a growing feeling of mistrust between the employees and the company. United and the IAM have been negotiating since December of 1999. The posted report says that this is the first labor dispute since September 11, however this is simply not true.