Union Busting at United

United Airlines is getting tough on the Association of Flight Attendants.

Starting April 1st, United Airlines will put nearly 700 attendants on “involuntary furlough,” the company announced on January 15th. United’s managers announced their intention to cut the size of its workforce as relations between the company and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) union deteriorate. Union spokesperson Christopher Clarke says the policy will harm all AFA members and it circumvents the collective bargaining process. About 13,000 AFA members are presently at United but those numbers are dwindling.

According to Clarke, United began cutting flight attendant numbers even before the 2010 merger with Continental Airlines. United has been increasingly reducing attendant jobs for the last five years and the combined airlines are involved in a reduction in the total workforce. In the past, collective bargaining was used to negotiate strategies such as position-sharing plans and voluntary retirements to alleviate the burden on the workers but now United defies union contracts and declares involuntary furloughs. Technically, the attendants are subject to recall but that does not seem likely with the dwindling numbers.

Megan McCarthy, United spokesperson, defends the actions as necessary and fair. United “offered a voluntary crossover program” that would provide attendants similar jobs at Continental; nevertheless, “the union turned that down” during negotiations. The crossover offer expires on April 1st, she adds, attendants will be offered jobs at Continental with no loss of seniority or pay.

AFA United’s Master Executive Council President, Greg Davidowitch says that Sam Risoli, United Senior Vice President, “deliberately circumvented” the union to force United attendants to switch to Continental. “We will hold management accountable for their actions if they involuntarily furlough even a single flight attendant. We do not want to fight, but we will never back down in defense of our members,” says Davidowitch. “Management doesn’t need this furlough. They want it … Management has refused to agree to the reasonable proposals presented by United AFA negotiators for mitigating the declared furlough altogether.”

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