United Continental Pilots Signal Willingness to Strike

 - July 23, 2012, 12:02 PM
United Continental Holdings and its pilots have failed to reach agreement on a new contract since United and Continental merged in 2010. (Photo: United Airlines)

Unionized pilots with United Airlines and the former Continental Airlines voted overwhelmingly on July 17 to authorize a possible strike, remaining, in the words of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), “wholly dissatisfied” with the pace of contract negotiations since the two airlines agreed to merge in May 2010.

The near unanimous vote by 94 percent of the eligible pilots represented by ALPA sends a message to the National Mediation Board (NMB), the federal agency that has brokered negotiations between ALPA units representing the pilots and Chicago-based United Continental Holdings since February 2011. Should the NMB determine that further mediated negotiations will not produce an agreement, it can release the parties to “self help” status, which would allow for a strike following a 30-day cooling-off period.

ALPA said the strike authorization vote came after the union sent “multiple letters” to the NMB in May and June, requesting that the agency expedite an agreement by offering arbitration. “The strength of this vote clearly indicates the level of frustration our pilots have with management’s disinterest in reaching a conclusion to negotiations,” stated Capt. Jay Pierce, chairman of the ALPA unit representing the former Continental pilots. The union represents 7,600 United pilots and 4,800 former Continental pilots.

United Continental has made better progress in contract negotiations with flight attendants working for its constituent subsidiaries. On July 17 the company said it had reached a tentative agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) covering flight attendants with its Continental Micronesia subsidiary. Four days earlier, flight attendants with the Continental subsidiary had ratified a new contract. Flight attendants with the United subsidiary approved a new contract in February.

United Continental said it started negotiations with the AFA for a joint collective bargaining agreement that would cover some 24,000 flight attendants represented by the union.