United Airlines & Flight Attendant Union In Bitter Retaliation Dispute

United Airlines & Flight Attendant Union In Bitter Retaliation Dispute

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United Airlines management and the union representing flight attendants (AFL-CIO) are currently engaged in a dispute regarding the firing of two flight attendants, who are accused of retaliation. This situation is getting so serious that United’s management sent a letter to all flight attendants explaining the company’s side of the story.

This incident started with a mask dispute

This incident involves a dispute between flight attendants back in 2020. Specifically, a junior flight attendant allegedly reported two senior flight attendants (who are also union officials) for not wearing their masks during the crew rest period on a flight. In their defense, the flight attendants claimed that the masks fell off while sleeping.

United conducted an investigation following this report, but it’s claimed that the union tried to block the investigation, while also trying to retaliate against the junior flight attendant who reported colleagues. An investigation revealed that the two flight attendants who were reported were behind the retaliation, and made up lies.

The two senior flight attendants have now been fired, leading to an extended court battle that has the potential to worsen labor relations at United.

This incident started with a 2020 flight

What United management says about the incident

On Thursday, United Airlines’ Senior Vice President of Inflight Service, John Slater, sent a memo to flight attendants sharing the company’s side of the story. As it’s explained, the company took the drastic measure of addressing all flight attendants about this because the union decided to publicize this case with misinformation.

According to the memo from management:

  • This situation began when a 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,” and “in these investigations, flight attendants revealed that the information against the reporting flight attendant was solicited by the two union representatives”
  • United doesn’t tolerate retaliation, any instances of this must be investigated, and the punishment for that can include termination, regardless of whether or not the employees in question are union representatives
  • The union took no actions to address the misconduct of the representatives, and offered no suggestions other than to have United investigate
  • The union filed a lawsuit in the summer of 2021 in federal courts, alleging that United violated the Railway Labor Act by issuing Letters of Investigation to the two flight attendants who held roles with the union
  • The court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2022, 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 “permit union representatives to retaliate against flight attendants who take disfavored actions”
Management is accusing the union of retaliation

What the flight attendant union says about the incident

In response to Thursday’s memo from United management, the flight attendant union issued a statement sharing its side of the story. According to this:

  • While the memo from Slater claimed to reveal facts, “it turns out he is giving an incomplete and company-oriented perspective on the matter”
  • The union deals with issues among flight attendants through the Professional Standards program that encourages parties to resolve problems, while United management “chooses to deal with disputes among employees with their typical approach, by mass firings and intimidation”
  • United management has fired almost a dozen flight attendants, which is the underlying problem here and why the union is trying to defend its right to representation and due process
  • United management has “no problem publicly going after long time flight attendants who received a sham investigation from the company before pushing forward with termination proceedings”
  • Management has ignored the fact that the contract contains the right to a fair hearing, and there is a process that includes binding arbitration
  • The union won’t publicly go into details about the case, so won’t comment on the underlying issue other than to say that it “vehemently disagrees with the company’s presentation of the facts.”
  • The union is angry about “United’s punitive approach to problems and complete lack of respect for union rights”
  • The union claims that the court didn’t determine the merits of the union’s arguments that management violated the Railway Labor Act, but rather ruled that the dispute must be settled by an arbitrator through the contractual procedure
The union argues management isn’t following its agreement

My take on this very strange dispute

Let me start by saying that I’m neither strongly for or against unions. I respect the right for employees to form unions. I think unions do good things, but I also think some unions do not-so-great things.

Delta and Southwest are both known for having among the best service of US airlines, yet flight attendants at the former airline aren’t unionized, while flight attendants at the latter union are unionized. So both models can work, especially if management respects employees.

With that out of the way, a few thoughts about this particular case:

  • The basis of this dispute is odd to begin with, and I can’t help but wonder what the backstory here is; were the two senior flight attendants simply flouting mask rules, was there already a dispute between the junior flight attendant and the two senior ones, or what?
  • It’s interesting how management directly addresses the incident that happened, while the union refuses to address it directly
  • If there’s any truth to what happened (that union reps tried to retaliate by taking action against a junior flight attendant who reported them), then that’s totally screwed up and they should be punished accordingly
  • It’s interesting to see how under Scott Kirby’s leadership, United really is acting with conviction, rather than waffling and being inactive; the company has taken a hard stance when it comes to firing some unvaccinated employees, and it seems that United is taking a zero tolerance approach by firing those who violate certain rules
  • I’d be curious to know how most United flight attendants feel about this situation; this doesn’t seem like a full-on management vs. union battle, but rather seems to be a battle between the company and senior union officials who are looking out for one another

Bottom line

United Airlines management is engaged in a battle with AFL-CIO, the union representing flight attendants. This issue dates back over a year, and involves a 2020 flight where a junior flight attendant reported two senior flight attendants (who were also union officials) for violating mask rules during a flight.

It’s reported that the union then tried to retaliate against the junior flight attendant, including making up false allegations. The union has been trying to sue the company over this incident, but hasn’t gotten far as of now. I’m curious to see how this situation evolves.

What do you make of this dispute? To those with inside knowledge, any clue what the sentiment is about this among rank and file flight attendants?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

Conversations (43)
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  1. Sum Ting Wong Guest

    The union is way WRONG here. This issue is about retaliation for reporting a concern. Nothing more. Nothing less. Sorry lazy nasty stupid union reps, GAME OVER and I am sure that the arbitrator will uphold your terminations. Union reps are not above the law.

  2. Regina Guest

    With the fue respect, how is this matter of public interest ?

  3. Jim Guest

    "The union deals with issues among flight attendants through the Professional Standards program that encourages parties to resolve problems, while United management “chooses to deal with disputes among employees with their typical approach, by mass firings and intimidation”"

    So in other words, the Union, instead of United HR, should oversee any safety violations? That's absurd.

  4. Morgan Diamond

    The union are acting completely out of line

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Maybe time for someone to do a "Jimmy Hoffa" to get them back in line?

  5. PJ Guest

    Oh if the masks had been off ONLY between "sips and nibbles"? The insanity of ALL OF THIS MASK CRAP is so off the chart- Right up there with walking to your restaurant table with it on and you're somehow magically protected after being seated. Just STOP. The little junior snitch should have gone to the union in the first place and left management out of it. He/she is more suited for a management position after this... Until then, have fun on the line!

    1. Karina Guest

      You are so right, the union is in place to protect FAs from being fired without just cause and other things, good luck to the junior flight attendant if she ever needs to union, and A mask issue, really?
      Aren’t we over this crap.
      Sounds very odd and back stabbing, I Would have resolved this on the plane or at professional standards, now it she was threatened or harassed that would be a...

      You are so right, the union is in place to protect FAs from being fired without just cause and other things, good luck to the junior flight attendant if she ever needs to union, and A mask issue, really?
      Aren’t we over this crap.
      Sounds very odd and back stabbing, I Would have resolved this on the plane or at professional standards, now it she was threatened or harassed that would be a different story!
      The union has a purpose, if it wasn’t for the union we would working 16 hour duty days with 5 hours layovers in some podunk hotel, but it is lead by humans who are bias like anything and everyone, so I didn’t see with my own eyes or hear with my ears but will follow to see what happens.

  6. dander Gold

    I've been in two unions and my wife has been in three. The union leadership takes care of each other first, their buddies second. Anyone else is on there own.

    1. Sylvia Grosneau Guest

      So true!
      I was terminated by UA after a twenty year career, and AFA never had my back.

  7. Watson Gold

    United's public comments directly address the matter at hand. The union's public comments deflect and play whataboutism. Seems pretty clear to me who's in the right.

    1. Terraplane Guest

      United provided its version of the truth. As with all disputes, the Union won’t debate the issue in the press. That is different from deflecting or avoiding telling of the truth. Let the process play out under contractual protocols, not decided in the news.

    2. David Diamond

      @Terraplane

      The Union tried to bring this to the public first, but when United presented their side of the story suddenly things "shouldn't be decided in the news"?

  8. Jim Baround Guest

    So the union initiates going "public" with this, the airline responds in kind with a detailed response, and the union responds by saying that's not the whole story but we won't go share the rest publicly? Why wouldn't you share the information that vindicates your member, if it really exists?

    1. Terraplane Guest

      The Union did not go public, principals in and around the events posted on social media, which became public. United went public.

  9. Tim Dunn Diamond

    In case there is any doubt, Oscar has left the building

  10. Aussie Guest

    Unions protect the “rights” of the perpetually lazy and deadweight employees.

    You don’t need representation by wannabe politicians if you’re decent at your job.

    1. Watson Gold

      Unions need reform to only act on behalf of the whole, e.g. for collective bargaining on salary and PTO. Their job should not be to protect individual employees who screw up.

    2. CRAIG S Guest

      Does that extend to the ALPA? Cops? Firemen? Both sides can overplay their hands at times. In this case, it was the union, maybe. If the facts presented in this article are representative.

    3. Watson Gold

      @Craig: If you're replying to me, yes.

      (The IUPA is especially egregious when it comes to protecting bad cops.)

  11. Jjojo Guest

    Bullying and intimidation are normal things with unions. Any type of organization that rewards members based on how long you haved worked and not by merit is prime for corruption. Why is anyone shocked by this?

  12. DullesA Guest

    I'm a United flight attendant with 25+ years seniority, based at IAD. You hit the nail on the head... this is a dispute between union reps and the company... (not the general population of FAs). The union reps in question made up false accusations of misconduct about the junior FA, in an effort to discredit the said FA. Making up false accusations about a colleague with motive to discredit is a form of retaliation. United...

    I'm a United flight attendant with 25+ years seniority, based at IAD. You hit the nail on the head... this is a dispute between union reps and the company... (not the general population of FAs). The union reps in question made up false accusations of misconduct about the junior FA, in an effort to discredit the said FA. Making up false accusations about a colleague with motive to discredit is a form of retaliation. United has made it very clear through numerous CBTs and training that there is a zero tolerance policy for retaliation. I truly believe that United is acting in the right here. Retaliation, just like discrimination, does not belong in the workplace. Out on the line, I do not feel like United is out to get me or my colleagues... The vast majority of my work friends and colleagues feel no sense of intimidation by the company at all. If you're not doing things you shouldn't be doing, there's no reason to worry. I am not anti-union in the least, but it's obvious that the recent union emails are full of emotive language designed to get people all riled up against the company. Fortunately, the entire court case transcript/summary is available online for free. Anyone who wants more information on this case can read it and make their own decisions: https://casetext.com/case/assn-of-flight-attendants-cwa-afl-cio-v-united-airlines-inc?fbclid=IwAR2fmYuLCmH1rvaLj3EH9RllXO3Ycac_evhu3zFJwC7ckvPuxUkqoWhke5g

  13. derek Guest

    Flight attendants used to be an admired job. Now, there's a lot of lazy people or misfits.

  14. Eric Guest

    This clearly stinks of retaliation by the union against one of their own. United is doing the right thing.

  15. TJ Guest

    This isn't about the initial conflict (mask issues) - this is about retaliation against someone by providing false information. Since the union does not address the issue but remains silent on it, my conclusion is that they are guilty as charged and trying to do CYA. Shame on them. United is doing the right thing here and they are very open about it.

  16. IADFlyer Guest

    Without exposing too much [I do not need UA coming after me] I can say with 100% certainty that there is misinformation all around. Most importantly, UA's mask policy onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident was much more relaxed then it is now. Specifically Flight Attendants were allowed to to remove/lower their masks while making announcements AND while taking crew rest breaks on flights that had them. So yes, as you said...

    Without exposing too much [I do not need UA coming after me] I can say with 100% certainty that there is misinformation all around. Most importantly, UA's mask policy onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident was much more relaxed then it is now. Specifically Flight Attendants were allowed to to remove/lower their masks while making announcements AND while taking crew rest breaks on flights that had them. So yes, as you said in the piece, it is the "back story" from what happened on the flight in question that is missing here. Intimidation by the company is at a level that I have never seen in over 30 years with UA regarding this subject, to the point where employees that even speak the name of the Flight Attendant who started this are being called in and put on levels of discipline. More to come for sure, but the work environment is currently hostile and filled with fear and intimidation over this situation.

    1. DCAFA Guest

      I agree that there is misinformation present, but, I have not felt the same level of fear or intimidation that you have. I have been in DCA for more than 20 years. I keep my work and attendance records clean as a whistle, and I have never felt even the slightest hint of hostility or intimidation from United. I enjoy coming to work. The FAs who got fired didn't get fired for breaking the mask...

      I agree that there is misinformation present, but, I have not felt the same level of fear or intimidation that you have. I have been in DCA for more than 20 years. I keep my work and attendance records clean as a whistle, and I have never felt even the slightest hint of hostility or intimidation from United. I enjoy coming to work. The FAs who got fired didn't get fired for breaking the mask policy; they got fired for inventing false reports of misconduct about the junior FA, aka retaliation. The back-story doesn't really matter, because that's not why the dismissals took place. The dismissals took place for the retaliation that took place after the "back-story" was well over with.

    2. Matt Guest

      Maybe some fear in UA flight attendants will help them fix their attitude towards their customers. UA flight attendants are the grumpiest of them all.

    3. DenB Diamond

      Seems to me, if the Union is correct in saying that the 2 accused are entitled to an arbitration hearing, then the airline is dead wrong (and sleazy) to go public before that hearing (if requested by the 2) has taken place. On the other hand, if that's a misleading claim by the Union (either because they aren't necessarily entitled to a hearing, or because they are, and they haven't demanded one) then the Union...

      Seems to me, if the Union is correct in saying that the 2 accused are entitled to an arbitration hearing, then the airline is dead wrong (and sleazy) to go public before that hearing (if requested by the 2) has taken place. On the other hand, if that's a misleading claim by the Union (either because they aren't necessarily entitled to a hearing, or because they are, and they haven't demanded one) then the Union is being sleazy and misleading and should be called out on it, specifically, with details, instead of innuendo or tired anti-union nonsense. Which is it? I hope everyone will forgive my fixation on the hearing, but it seems to me that's the crux of the matter, because it's how such matters are supposed to be solved.

    4. Eskimo Guest

      I can say with 100% certainty that if UA's mask policy onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident was much more relaxed then it is now, there wouldn't be any investigation.
      However, it would be useless to give weight to your statements as unbiased since you have already decided who is to blame by calling out the Flight Attendant "who started this".

      You probably feel that the work environment is currently hostile...

      I can say with 100% certainty that if UA's mask policy onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident was much more relaxed then it is now, there wouldn't be any investigation.
      However, it would be useless to give weight to your statements as unbiased since you have already decided who is to blame by calling out the Flight Attendant "who started this".

      You probably feel that the work environment is currently hostile and filled with fear and intimidation over this situation because even union officials don't have immunity anymore.

    5. IADFlyer Guest

      UA's policy at the time of the incident was indeed different/more relaxed vs post mandate. So feel however you like about the rest of my post, that part is indeed 100% correct.

    6. Ray Gold

      @Eskimo is right and AIADFlyer you are blowing smoke out of your arse. United isn't in the business of picking a fight with the Union over such petty crap if they have zero cause. Please stop your rambling nonsense.

    7. IADFlyer Guest

      Sadly Ray, Eskimo is not correct about the mask policy. He/She/They is correct about me not being unbiased, which I do not believe I ever claimed to be. If a co-worker is taking pictures and turning them in to management, yes, I have formed an opinion and it is not a good one. There is a process in place for when you have an issue with a co-worker, but taking pictures to use against them...

      Sadly Ray, Eskimo is not correct about the mask policy. He/She/They is correct about me not being unbiased, which I do not believe I ever claimed to be. If a co-worker is taking pictures and turning them in to management, yes, I have formed an opinion and it is not a good one. There is a process in place for when you have an issue with a co-worker, but taking pictures to use against them is not ok. If you think that ANY of my fellow flight attendants feel differently, why don't you try taking a picture of them the next time you are on the plane. I assure you, it will not go well, regardless of the fact that you really have done nothing wrong. When I started out my post with "without exposing too much", I did not mean that I knew less then I was posting, I meant that I know a lot, I am just not willing to share a lot on here for a bunch of people who have "decided who to blame" but are not in the industry or have more knowledge of the situation then UA and AFA have allowed them to have.

  17. Another Lump Guest

    All this wasted time, expense and resources over a 3-10% effective virtue signaling device. I'm just glad the lunatic left are now eating their own.

    1. DenB Diamond

      I'm a leftist in the vast majority of ways. Yet I agree entirely with your assessment of masks and we'd probably agree on plenty more, on the pandemic. I'd be grateful if you'd drop the wrong labels (left/right) you throw around so casually, at least on pandemic measures. We can fight about affirmative action or Trans rights, instead, okay? In the Omicron phase of the pandemic, masks are completely absurd. (I'm a leftie and I approve this message)

    2. glenn t Diamond

      I would disagree strongly with your assertion that with regard to omicron masks are absurd. Quite the opposite, as this variation is intensely airborne transmitted. Do you see intense exhortations to endlessly wash your hands and wipe down every surface you see with omicron? No you don't, as this variations main mode of spreading is via air, and masks (worn properly) greatly reduce viral load transmission from the mouth, and reduce the possibility of inhaling...

      I would disagree strongly with your assertion that with regard to omicron masks are absurd. Quite the opposite, as this variation is intensely airborne transmitted. Do you see intense exhortations to endlessly wash your hands and wipe down every surface you see with omicron? No you don't, as this variations main mode of spreading is via air, and masks (worn properly) greatly reduce viral load transmission from the mouth, and reduce the possibility of inhaling it, providing your nose is covered. Oh, and the virus is indifferent to left/right political beliefs, as many now deceased right-wing lunatics discovered!

    3. ConsAreTraitors Guest

      LOL, I love how the wacko connies always have such exact percentages. If you didn´t know any better you would think they are pulling them out of their nether regions.

    4. Another Lump Guest

      @consarerightsoideflect

      3-10% is a range. It's pretty much the opposite of an exact percentage. Maybe take one statistics class before exposing your stupidity on statistics. Your lack of math skills is why you are so easily duped That range is based on several clinical studies on mask effectiveness, specifically cloth and surgical masks. The reason is that covid is not primarily spread by droplets (ie coughing and sneezing) but aerosolized particles (ie your breath, which...

      @consarerightsoideflect

      3-10% is a range. It's pretty much the opposite of an exact percentage. Maybe take one statistics class before exposing your stupidity on statistics. Your lack of math skills is why you are so easily duped That range is based on several clinical studies on mask effectiveness, specifically cloth and surgical masks. The reason is that covid is not primarily spread by droplets (ie coughing and sneezing) but aerosolized particles (ie your breath, which masks obviously don't stop) But answer me this, smart guy: when blue states implemented mask mandates and lockdowns, was covid eradicated in those regions? No? A thinking person may question whether masks were doing anything if cases kept going up during draconian measures, but we know you are not that kind of person.

      @glenn
      Covid has always been airborne transmitted. Surface transmission was always extremely low risk. Omicron didn't change how it's transmitted, it only changed severity (much lower).

    5. UA-NYC Guest

      Just another Trump slurping mouth breathing chump. Thankfully it’s mainly just the anti vaxxing hard right still dying of this easily preventable virus.

    6. Another Lump Guest

      @worstairlinein$hitholecity

      Actually very few people at all are dying now, most are elderly that would die anyway. Your face diaper prevents nothing. Omicron is extremely mild, as we knew months ago.

      But you don't want to have a logical argument do you? No, you're just a leftist troll that has one play in the playbook. Trump bad, blah blah blah.

      Oh, BTW, how do you reconcile your sides climate change rhetoric with your...

      @worstairlinein$hitholecity

      Actually very few people at all are dying now, most are elderly that would die anyway. Your face diaper prevents nothing. Omicron is extremely mild, as we knew months ago.

      But you don't want to have a logical argument do you? No, you're just a leftist troll that has one play in the playbook. Trump bad, blah blah blah.

      Oh, BTW, how do you reconcile your sides climate change rhetoric with your frequent flying habits? I guess you don't really believe in the cause, do you? Or maybe you are like most elitist Dems that follow the do as I say, not as I do philosophy, as they do with the mask mandates?

  18. Alan Guest

    As you say Ben, it is good to see United have the guts to do the right thing for employees and customers by enforcing a no-tolerance policy regarding safety violations. I stand with UA and Scott!

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TJ Guest

This isn't about the initial conflict (mask issues) - this is about retaliation against someone by providing false information. Since the union does not address the issue but remains silent on it, my conclusion is that they are guilty as charged and trying to do CYA. Shame on them. United is doing the right thing here and they are very open about it.

7
Watson Gold

United's public comments directly address the matter at hand. The union's public comments deflect and play whataboutism. Seems pretty clear to me who's in the right.

5
DullesA Guest

I'm a United flight attendant with 25+ years seniority, based at IAD. You hit the nail on the head... this is a dispute between union reps and the company... (not the general population of FAs). The union reps in question made up false accusations of misconduct about the junior FA, in an effort to discredit the said FA. Making up false accusations about a colleague with motive to discredit is a form of retaliation. United has made it very clear through numerous CBTs and training that there is a zero tolerance policy for retaliation. I truly believe that United is acting in the right here. Retaliation, just like discrimination, does not belong in the workplace. Out on the line, I do not feel like United is out to get me or my colleagues... The vast majority of my work friends and colleagues feel no sense of intimidation by the company at all. If you're not doing things you shouldn't be doing, there's no reason to worry. I am not anti-union in the least, but it's obvious that the recent union emails are full of emotive language designed to get people all riled up against the company. Fortunately, the entire court case transcript/summary is available online for free. Anyone who wants more information on this case can read it and make their own decisions: https://casetext.com/case/assn-of-flight-attendants-cwa-afl-cio-v-united-airlines-inc?fbclid=IwAR2fmYuLCmH1rvaLj3EH9RllXO3Ycac_evhu3zFJwC7ckvPuxUkqoWhke5g

5
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