While the merger between Continental and United was closed in 2010, up until now the ex-United and ex-Continental flight attendants have still been on different contracts. This means that they’ve had separate pay scales, different work rules, different planes, etc. As far as the flight attendants are concerned, there are still two different airlines.
In theory one of the benefits of a merger is the additional synergies of having a larger airline, though part of that has been lost due to these contract issues. For example, the airline can only assign certain flight attendants to certain planes, they don’t have as much negotiating power with layover hotels since the contracts are different, etc.
Just to give an example of how ridiculous this all is, in April it was reported that a 787 was “accidentally” delivered to the Continental side rather than the United side, so the airline reached a $3 million settlement with ex-United flight attendants, since they unjustly had the plane taken away from them.
Management and the unions have been working on a new contract for a long time, though they’ve been getting stuck. Both the Continental and United contracts had relative advantages, and both sides wanted to maintain those advantages while getting more.
Conversely, management wanted to control costs. So they’ve been stuck, and in many ways flight attendants are losing out the most. They have an outdated contract, but they don’t want to agree to something unless it’s industry leading.
As a very general rule of thumb, historically Continental flight attendants were better paid, while United flight attendants had better work rules (maximum duty hours, hotels, etc.).
Several weeks ago the union and management agreed on a tentative flight attendant contract. The union said it was the best they could do.
The flight attendants had to vote on the new contract, and the votes are now in. United’s new flight attendant contract has been ratified, with over 90% voting, and 53% voting in favor. Per the press release:
We have a ratified contract. With some of the highest numbers in AFA history, over 90 percent participated in the vote with 53% voting to ratify the agreement. You have participated in a historic vote and there is no doubt that every single one of you is deeply engaged and cares about our future.
There will be much to communicate regarding implementation of our agreement. Look for those communications in the coming days and weeks.
This vote means we are moving forward together to achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline. Today, make it a point to reach out to someone you don’t know, but who shares our wings and our future. Our strength comes from how we take care of each other.
We are one airline. We are one union. We are one.
As you can see, the results are rather divided, which isn’t ideal. Hopefully even the flight attendants who disagree with the contract accept it for what it is, and hopefully this doesn’t drive a further wedge between employees at the airline.
Realistically it seems that it was about as good as it was going to get. This represents an overall very nice improvement over flight attendants’ current compensation, though clearly it’s also not quite what some were hoping for.
If you’re fascinated by the inner workings of airlines, I’d highly recommend reading the contract. For example, it’s interesting how they’re entitled to layover hotels in cities rather than by airports under certain circumstances, how per diem differs domestically vs. internationally, etc.
Congrats to United and their flight attendants on finally getting these negotiations wrapped up!