Union Demands United Airlines Pay Flight Attendants When They Aren't Flying - View from the Wing

CEO Tam DT
Flight attendants play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and comfort of passengers during air travel. However, there has been an ongoing debate regarding how they should be compensated for their time. Traditionally, airlines...

Flight attendants play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and comfort of passengers during air travel. However, there has been an ongoing debate regarding how they should be compensated for their time. Traditionally, airlines have paid flight attendants for their time from push back to arrival, which means they only receive pay for the duration of the flight itself. This practice, though common, has raised concerns among flight attendants and their unions.

Unfair Treatment in Boarding Time

Flight attendants are expected to work even during boarding when passengers are getting settled. However, they don't receive any compensation for this crucial phase of the flight. This seems unfair, as they are actively engaged in their duties. Unfortunately, this has been the norm for flight attendants for quite some time. Unions, who negotiate for the best interests of their members, have historically focused on securing benefits for senior crew members, often at the expense of junior crew members.

Changing Tides

The preference for not paying flight attendants during boarding has started to change. Non-union airlines such as Delta Air Lines and SkyWest have recognized the importance of compensating their crew for this time and have implemented boarding pay as part of their compensation packages. Delta, in particular, has gone a step further by offering industry-leading compensation to their flight attendants. This shift has set a new standard in the industry.

The Demand for Boarding Pay

Flight attendant unions have taken notice of these changes and are now demanding boarding pay. American Airlines has already offered their flight attendants boarding pay, matching Delta's pay formulas. However, the offer was rejected by the union as insufficient. The flight attendants union at United Airlines, which previously downplayed the importance of boarding pay at Spirit Airlines, now wants to one-up both Delta and American Airlines.

The demand from United's flight attendants union includes not only boarding pay, but also "Ground Time Pay" for the time spent on the ground at the airport. This would mean payment from the moment flight attendants check in at the airport until the time their flight pushes back, including time spent in between connecting flights.

Flight Attendants Boarding Flight attendants during the boarding process.

A Reasonable Approach

Paying flight attendants for all the time they spend working, both in the air and on the ground, is a reasonable and fair way to compensate them. It ensures that they are adequately compensated for every minute they are on the clock. However, implementing this change may not be as straightforward as it seems.

For flight attendants, receiving boarding pay means they may not see the same increase in flight pay as they would without it. If ground pay is introduced, the tradeoff with flight pay rates becomes even more significant. The flight attendant union, AFA-CWA, wants full increases in flight pay and half pay for all time spent on the ground. Negotiating the total value of the pay package, and then dividing it into flight pay and ground pay, becomes a complex task.

Balancing Priorities

Introducing ground pay would disproportionately benefit junior crew members who spend more time on the ground. However, senior members of the union, who spend more time in the air, may not fully support this idea due to the potential tradeoff with their flight pay. It is important to strike a balance that considers the needs and preferences of all members.

It is likely that the demands for ground pay and increased flight pay are part of a bargaining position rather than a final settlement. United Airlines, like every other airline, has its own financial constraints and cannot afford to pay its cabin crew more than its competitors.

Negotiations and Future Outlook

Negotiations between United Airlines and its flight attendants union have been challenging, resulting in dissatisfaction among union members. The union plans to request federal mediation, which is required before they can ask the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse and potentially allow the union to strike.

The flight attendants' contract at United became amendable in August 2021, and negotiations began in January 2022. It is crucial for both the airline and the union to find common ground and address the concerns of their members to ensure a harmonious working environment.

While there are legitimate grievances on both sides, it is essential to work towards a solution that benefits the airline, the flight attendants, and ultimately, the passengers.

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