Union Head Sends Scathing Letter To British Airways CEO, Threatens Strike

Filed Under: British Airways, Unions

The head of the union representing British Airways’ cabin crew has just sent a letter to British Airways’ CEO. Not only does the union head threaten industrial action with immediate effect, but he also says that he’s both “staggered and offended by [British Airways CEO’s] arrogance.” Ouch.

British Airways’ labor dispute continues

Airlines around the globe are suffering right now, and are having difficult conversations with labor groups, as redundancies loom. British Airways has made the most headlines for the ways in which management has negotiated with employee groups, as the company looks to reduce its workforce by around 12,000 people. In particular:

Fortunately British Airways has managed to come to an agreement with pilots, though the same can’t be said for cabin crew. Well, tensions between management and the union representing cabin crew have just been escalated.

British Airways union threatens industrial action

Len McCluskey is the General Secretary of UNITE, which is the union representing British Airways’ cabin crew. Yesterday he sent quite the letter to British Airways CEO Alex Cruz.

It reads like one of those angry emails you might type out, but when you calm down you realize that you’re probably better off not sending it.

But nope, this letter was sent, and it’s quite something. McCluskey is threatening industrial action with immediate effect, but there’s so much more in this letter that’s interesting to read.

Here’s the note that was sent to Cruz, in its entirety:

Dear Alex,

I am in receipt of your email dated 26 July and I am both staggered and offended by your arrogance.

In the opening paragraph you state “it has taken this long for you to realise and accept this”. This reference infers that I am only now understanding the financial difficulties that British Airways face. How dare you suggest such a thing. I have attempted for months to try to get you to understand the need to treat your workers with respect and dignity and this is the only way to get through this pandemic together. It is your staff, not you, that have for many years, built the good name of British Airways and contributed billions of pounds to its profitability year on year.

Your decision to adopt a scorched earth strategy with a ‘Fire and Rehire’ approach was always despicable. You and your management team have dragged the good name of British Airways through the mud. Have you ever asked yourself why so many MPs from all parties, at the highest level, have condemned British Airways or why newspaper and media outlets have been appalled at your actions? Perhaps you don’t understand that the British sense of ‘Fair Play’ runs deep in the psyche of the British people.

I am advised that no sooner are certain issues on process agreed then the company management renege on them, it beggars the question as to who is running the show – so much so that it is my intention to seek meetings with Antonio Vazquez Romero and IAG.

Also, please don’t insult me by asking ”how many of my members I have spoken to?” When you know full well that you have received thousands of heartfelt emails from your staff that you have ignored and or deleted without even reading. My shop stewards and reps speak to members constantly, dealing with the stress, anxiety and heart ache caused by your management style and strategy. Instead of criticising Unite reps, you should actually listen to them, instead of pretending to do so in order that you can tick some consultative process box and you might, at long last, realise that the only way to have a lasting peace and avoid months/years of industrial unrest is to work with us to achieve an acceptable way forward.

You have now published a timetable to Fire and Rehire thousands of your workforce on 7 August, we will work every hour between now and then, to convince you not to do so.

You can take this letter as our commitment to do that. However, you can also take this an intention to defend our members by moving towards industrial action with immediate effect.

Yours sincerely,
Len McCluskey

Bottom line

While British Airways management worked out an agreement with pilots, it looks like the same can’t be said for cabin crew. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the cabin crew labor situation is significantly more complicated due to “Mixed Fleet.”

It’ll be worth watching how this unfolds. Ultimately even industrial action may not really get the union far, given greatly reduced capacity, as well as the vastly different contracts that different cabin crew have.

What do you make of this letter to British Airways’ CEO?

(Tip of the hat to Head for Points)

  1. LOL at a strike…I’m sure Walsh is super scared!

    They agreed to a ‘B’ scale ten years ago, and I think any pilot with experience in such matters would have advised the FA Union not to go down that path. Yet they did, and here they are, so this is as much their own hole to dig out of as it is the company acting deplorably.

  2. @Lucky – In other good news, Qmiles now have a rolling 36 month expiry based on spend or earn activity.

  3. This is just going to be a never ending thing for airlines and many other industries. Most economies of the world are not doing well and the virus just amplified those problems. People over the years have gotten lazier while expecting more and more for their living standards. Sadly that is no longer occurring for most.

    Come on, we got people earning money by doing nothing more than being so called influencers, or even blogging. That isn’t even a real job.

  4. I do try hard to stop myself being a grammar Nazi, but it’s depressing to find someone else who doesn’t know the difference between infers and implies.

    Putting that trivia to one side, this letter reflects the shocking reality of the situation: the cabin crew have very little leverage in the face of a company that actually wants to get rid of thousands of them. And with the latest UK job loss statistics making grim reading, this has become an employer’s market.

    Most strategic managers believe that you should never let a crisis go to waste: BA is clearly of the same view.

  5. Len McCluskey is a Marxist old trade union dinosaur but he controls the UK Labour party given the level of his union’s donations to them. Sadly, he just cannot get it through his thick head that industrial action will simply cause even more job losses for his members.

  6. Regardless of one’s views as to the merits of the union’s demands, the fact of the matter is industrial action is precisely what management wants. They will be glad to cull the ranks.

  7. REALLY NOW. . .Fire them all, enough laid off flight crew members will be happy to join BA and have a job. Unions continue to show their utter stupidity. Why they are going the way of the dinosaur.

  8. I’m very curious to see how IAG will handle the downsizing of its subsidiary airlines with respect to each other – I suspect BA will bear the brunt of any actions even long after COVID-19 has passed.

  9. There are predominantly two unions that cover the majority of employees at BA – the GMB and Unite. Within these two unions are ‘branches’. Mixed Fleet Unite for the Mixed Fleet crew. BASSA for the legacy crew. BALPA for the pilots. One for ground staff, office staff, engineers.

    On the surface, the threat of industrial action sounds ridiculous. But if you consider the following it could actually be quite successful.

    Firstly, although BALPA representing the pilots has secured ‘a deal’ the overwhelming majority of pilots are NOT happy with it and it wouldn’t be crazy to see some form of rebellion in their ballot if they are emboldened by what other employee groups and unions are doing.

    Secondly, we have the engineers. They can make or break any industrial action. You don’t just need pilots and cabin crew to dispatch an aircraft. If enough licensed engineers went on strike they could effectively ground what there is of the operation currently.

    Thirdly, there’s the media coverage. BA is obviously gagging for customers to book flights with them in the future. The mere threat of strikes turns people off of booking.

  10. @ Duck Ling, I totally get your point that a strike might have some impact. But the impact is much less if you operate at 30% of capacity, as compared to 105% … I guess BA can almost maintain the current level of operations, just with non unionized staff. There might be one or another unfortunate cancellation, e.g. if no engineer can be found at short term, but in general I would not expect too many difficulties.

  11. I was totally in sympathy with this Union Boss until he decided to turn into a racist British bigot and lecture the (Spanish born) CEO on how British culture supposedly works and how it’s apparently more evolved and better than where he comes from. British racism rears it ugly head on the left and the right. So typical.

  12. @chase wrote:

    “They agreed to a ‘B’ scale ten years ago, and I think any pilot with experience in such matters would have advised the FA Union not to go down that path. Yet they did, and here they are, so this is as much their own hole to dig out of as it is the company acting deplorably.”

    Therein lies the rub.

    10 years ago BA and the other airlines were in the midst of a financial crisis caused by the recession of 2008 onward. BA went to the unions for “help” and the flight attendants allowed the two-tier agreement to proceed as their share of “helping out”. This was a ‘for new hires’ agreement not ever intended to become universal.

    Their decision of the union and flight attendants to help out post 2008 is now being thrown back in their face. So to say now that they were stupid to help out back then is to ignore the fact that BA now wants to penalize them for being stupid and helping out.

    There may be more to this that is not on the surface but from what I have read I certainly sympathize with the Legacy Flight Attendants on this one. BA is being very poor spirited.

  13. @Azamaraal – what am I missing here? The unions said that they were only willing to allow cuts to future contracts – new employees – meaning that legacy FA maintained their salaries. How was that help? That’s just pure selfishness and honestly wit the quality of BA staff would not shed a tear to let these go.

  14. This is making me extremely nervous. Can they just wait until after Sept 4th?? I’m moving to London an my flight is on Sept 4th. They did drop the A380 to a 777-200 with the old business class. Which I figured they’d do, but was hoping to have a likely last flight on the A380.

  15. @Lucky, should I transfer all my BA miles to Iberia before BA makes another foolish move? Seriously! I am not wanting to wait for the worse outcome.

  16. British Airways is and always will be at the top of my “Don’t Fly List.” Poor management, and deplorable airplanes.

  17. @Derek
    It’s a bit weird to see anti-Spanish racism in the letter when the proposed solution to dealing with Cruz is instead to deal with a more senior Spanish manager at IAG’s Madrid HQ?

    Racism is vile, of course, but it’s tiresome when people go hunting for racism that isn’t there…

  18. @Greg says: – July 28, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    What other airlines would you put in this category?

    The nice Paul says: July 29, 2020 at 4:21 am

    Why is he highlighting the anti-Spanish tone in the letter if he is not racist?

  19. How BA have gone about this is questionable, whilst there are a large number of legacy crew on the “golden runway” contract taking home well over 3.5 -4k a month, there are also those legacy crew who really don’t have all the perks and pensions the older ones have. Legacy Crew have clung on to this great contract for years and IAG have rubbed their hands together when this opportunity came along. The unions have really let the members down, making ridiculous demands as a condition of even starting talks, Red Len is out of touch and as for his constant references to “British this and British that”!! BA dont care if they strike, IAG will already have plans for Iberia and Aerlingus to pick up any slack, they have plenty of spare capacity

  20. When I moved to the U.K. I was taken by surprise at how much more militant some the unions were and also the bad relationship between management and employees were in certain companies. BA is one, but Transport for London and the various train operators as well. Strikes are very common.

    Unions can be a force for good, and a good working relationship between them an management is imperative. In my home country the level of union membership is much higher than the U.K., but we don’t see many strikes. Salaries are higher, benefits and holiday allowances as well. The amount of working poor is low. If you look at France, union membership is actually quite low but they are also suffering from some very militant unions. SAS has long been plagued by militant unions as well, but it’s mainly a problem in Denmark and less so in Sweden and Norway.

    The U.K. has a huge problem with working poor, and many people make shockingly low salaries. It’s not a cheap country, with housing and transport costs amongst the highest in Europe. This move by BA to fire and rehire is another example of this problem. I agree that the airline is over staffed, but there are different ways of going about it.

  21. @ Andy. Agree with you but the future booking/customer uncertainty aspect is crucial as well. Examples of this can be found in the comments to this very thread:

    ‘This is making me extremely nervous. Can they just wait until after Sept 4th?? I’m moving to London an my flight is on Sept 4th. ‘

    ‘@Lucky, should I transfer all my BA miles to Iberia before BA makes another foolish move? Seriously! I am not wanting to wait for the worse outcome.’

    There are a lot of airlines chasing very few customers at the moment. People will actively avoid considering BA if now they also have to factor potential IA into their plans along with COVID/border restrictions.

    Especially as the letter from the Unite Union boss mentions: ‘…..avoid months/years of industrial unrest’.

  22. Obviously Len can’t do anything about supply and demand while Covid19 is around. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on with his threats. But to keep his job, he will have to sable rattle to certain degree. Unfortunately for those who are in A crew, the boat had sailed. I don’t see they have any leverage. Going forward, the effect of Covid19 means working as a BA flight crew should be seen as a job NOT a career. It’s one of those you work for 5 years, travel the world, and move onto something else.

    I predict due to the loss of legacy crew, service standard in F will go down substantially. Unless the final destination is London, people will opt to fly with Lufthansa or Air France from US.

  23. @Kevin ‘But to keep his job, he will have to sable rattle to certain degree.’. Len actually announced his retirement earlier in the year (pre COVID lockdown).

  24. If he calls a strike Cruz and Walsh have what they want and will fire everybody. Better not make any foolish moves!

  25. I’m a union member (albeit in a different industry) than these BA employees, but I have to stand with them philosophically and emotionally. As a former union rep myself, the one thing I’ve learned is that when management and labor work together, they can compromise and avoid the worst of all possible outcomes. From reading up on what Mr. Cruz has been doing, it clearly seems to be that he’s doing anything but working together. That he seems to be following a scorched Earth policy is clear. This will only anger BA and BA-related employees and doesn’t bode well for labor relations into the future.

    Yes, its easy to blame the pandemic, but its also possible for airlines to lessen the blow of cuts. Many US airlines are offering early retirements and voluntary furloughs instead of “fire and rehire.” They are at least trying to find some compromise or alternate “solution.” In my work, management started transferring people around willy nilly. Our union hit them with a cease and desist order yesterday for violating the contract. We’re willing to help, but we would like to be consulted, to help ensure that such movements, furloughs, etc., are fair and conducted legally, that’s all. Mr. Cruz could do the same. It wouldn’t hurt him, and it would engender some positive relations with the rank and file.

  26. And you wonder why people hate unions! Paying attention in grammar class was not Len’s greatest failure – he’s utterly stupid.

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