United pilots showed their unity with a historic agreement that canceled all furloughs and secured permanent contract gains.
To start 2020, the Master Executive Council (MEC) leaders, Capt. Todd Insler, chair; Capt. Tom Murphy, vice chair; Capt. Bill Neveu, secretary; and Capt. Rick Cameron, treasurer, were all reelected by acclamation in January. The unanimous election results sent a powerful message of unity to the company as the pilots continued contract negotiations.
In the months that followed, that unity was vital when the airline industry was faced with the biggest crisis in its history, COVID-19. Despite the global health and economic challenge, the MEC led a unified pilot group to a historic agreement that saved thousands of jobs and achieved permanent contract gains during the worst crisis in the airline’s history.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused an inconceivable downturn in passenger demand and company revenue. The MEC leaders worked tirelessly for months, first advocating on Capitol Hill for an airline relief package and then on negotiating a letter of agreement (LOA) that canceled all company-announced pilot furloughs. “The pilot group understood that without vital airline aid and this LOA, thousands of our pilots would be without a paycheck for months and possibly years and our remaining pilots would have their long-term career prospects radically curtailed. We stopped that,” said Insler.
In September, the pilots voted to approve the Pandemic Recovery LOA. The agreement kept the pilot seniority list intact, canceled the 2,850 previously announced furloughs, pay protected thousands of pilots, provided the best regional jet scope protections in the industry, and included lucrative early-out packages for more than 800 senior pilots. In a historic first, the agreement also contained multiple permanent contractual gains, including a pay raise that will make United pilots the highest paid pilots in the industry across all fleets—something that’s never been done in any economic downturn. In addition, the LOA contained numerous protections and early termination triggers that will cancel the deal if the company reaches predetermined metrics based on a resurgence in passenger demand.
“Our members understood that in order to protect pilot jobs and continue to move forward, this agreement was in their best interests,” Insler observed. “We’re also locking in permanent contractual gains. I’m proud of our pilots for showing the unity and resolve needed in the face of unbounded uncertainty. They voted to protect lives.”
Last year brought progress toward solving the long-standing scope issue. The MEC passed LOA 20-06, which creates a review committee composed of representatives for the pilot group and the airline to discuss and examine the viability of pilots on the United seniority list flying Embraer E175s. This includes the possibility of increased opportunities for United pilots at United Express carriers in the event of future furloughs.
The pandemic and industry downturn have contributed to increasing levels of emotional stress. To address this situation, the MEC’s Support, Outreach, Assistance, Resources (SOAR) Committee and the human factors team at United’s Flight Training Center have teamed up to launch the new podcast series Piloting Your Mind. This podcast hosts interviews with industry professionals, includes personal testimonials, and offers mindfulness techniques and resources to improve resilience, helping the pilots in their personal and professional lives during this adverse time.
Maintaining a safe operation, improving the contract, and fully enforcing all collective bargaining agreement provisions will continue to be the focus of the MEC in 2021. Pilot leadership will continue to strategize, plan, and execute at the direction of the 12,087 United pilots to not only protect, but continue to improve their careers. “The pandemic has been devastating to many families and our industry, but we’ll get through this, and we’ll be in a better position than where we started,” said Insler. “We’ll remain vigilant and focus on what we can control, particularly operating safe flights for our passengers and cargo. We’ll be here ready in full force once they’re ready to fly again.”