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Rose Zhou/MEDILL

The United side of the merged airline hasn't hired flight attendants since 2008, while the Continental side has been adding staff, including 485 new flight attendants last year.

Flight attendant union denounces United’s furlough plan

by Rose Zhou
Jan 23, 2014

The nearly 700 United Airlines flight attendants who expect to be involuntarily furloughed in April expressed “outrage” Thursday at the airline’s attempt to sidestep their solutions to staffing and seniority issues.

United Continental Holdings Inc. announced Wednesday that the flight attendants, who are part of a  “voluntary crossover program,” will be able to apply for new-hire positions with the former Continental Airlines. They will still receive the same compensation and vacation accrual, but it leaves them at the bottom of the Continental seniority list for flight choice and time-off requests.

Greg Davidowitch, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said United management’s effort to force United flight attendants to give up their contract and seniority shows management’s unwillingness to work with the union.

“Management doesn’t need this furlough, they want it,” Davidowitch said, adding that on Wednesday an airline executive “deliberately circumvented United AFA leadership to achieve and agenda that has nothing to do with managing staffing concerns.”

United said its flight attendant work group has been over-staffed since 2008. Sam Risoli, the airline’s senior vice president of inflight services, said the company cannot accept the no-furlough condition because not enough flight attendants volunteered to crossover to Continental.

It has been four years since United Airlines merged with Continental Airlines and promised great things would result from their merger. United Continental, which now has 23,000 attendants, has yet to merge its employees’ separate labor contracts and seniority lists.

United’s merger was supposed to provide employees benefits from enhanced long-term career opportunities and greater stability as they promised four years ago, Davidowitch said. Furloughing almost 700 flight attendants and undermine their collective bargaining process is a failure of the promise, he said.

The flight attendant union proposed a list of alternatives Friday to avoid furloughs, but management has not responded in a cooperative way, said Christopher Clarke, AFA spokesman for United Airlines.

AFA has previously said it is fully prepared to pursue any and all legal measures, including federal court.