Hundreds of pilots from United Airlines and other carriers take part in an informational picket outside of the United Airlines Flight Training Center in Denver, Colo., on Nov. 15, 2022. Photo: Chris Weaver
In 2022, the United Airlines pilot group grew to more than 15,000 pilots, with hiring and upgrades planned to continue at a record-setting pace. United management is relying on labor harmony and cooperation to achieve its goal of growth and expansion.
While United and the industry at large continue a strong rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, management has yet to deliver on its promise of the industry-leading contract United pilots require and deserve. The current pilot contract became amendable on Jan. 31, 2019, almost 1,500 days ago. Last fall, the pilot group overwhelmingly rejected a substandard contract from management, with 94 percent of the pilots who cast ballots voting against it. This is not surprising, as United pilots have a rich history of strong unionism and have led the industry in safety and professionalism.
This mandate sparked the pilots to exercise ALPA’s bottom-up structure, resulting in leadership changes and renewed unity toward the goal of achieving an industry-leading agreement. While pay is always significant among the list of improvements, the pilots continue to express increasing concerns about work-life balance, reflected through work rules that haven’t been addressed in 10 years. The pandemic changed the workforce, pilots included, who value schedule reliability and time at home more than ever. After conducting separate rounds of polling and surveys, the pilot group made clear that many issues must be addressed during negotiations. Recent ratified and tentative agreements that other ALPA pilot groups have achieved have paved the path that the United pilots intend to extend through pattern bargaining.
All of the ALPA volunteers at United continue to work hard to hold the line. “The real work of the pilots is done behind the scenes by our many dedicated pilot volunteers and staff who represent and protect our careers and families,” said Capt. Garth Thompson, the pilots’ Master Executive Council (MEC) chair.
Recently, the MEC’s Strategic Preparedness and Strike Committee held picketing events in United pilot domiciles with tremendous participation. More picketing and unity events are planned to send management the message that a contract is long overdue and the pilots will hold the CEO accountable to the promises that he’s made.
Looking ahead to 2023, United Airlines continues pushing forward with its optimistic growth plan “United Next”; however, the pilot group remains resolute that absent an industry-leading agreement, management won’t be able to successfully expand the way it intends without being able to hire and retain the best and brightest pilots both now and in the future. The failed agreement, along with a new high bar at other properties, has unified the pilot group—unity that Thompson intends to continue to foster.
“We’ve all heard of or witnessed United executives claiming they’re ready to conclude negotiations toward an industry-leading agreement,” Thompson said. “Having noted the increasing boldness and frequency of their assertions, it’s time for them to prove the extent of their sincerity.”
Unity and strength have served the United pilots well in the past. And with history a good predictor of the future, they’ll continue to serve the 15,552 and growing pilot group well in 2023 and beyond.