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United's Labor Negotiations Platform Explains What It Wants for Employees

United is in the unfortunate position of having all of its union labor contracts become amendable (airline labor contracts never "expire" thanks to the Railway Labor Act) at the beginning of 2010. That is not an enviable position, especially when most unions have already ratcheted up the rhetoric about regaining what they've lost over the last few years. At least United is trying to be clear about where it stands. (I emphasize the word "trying")

If you'd like, you can read United's 56 page Labor Negotiations Platform for yourself. It is out there for anyone to see, and there's some useful information in there.

Much of the presentation focuses on what a mess this industry is, and how the ups and downs make for a terrible labor situation. They're right. It does. So they want to structure their contracts of the future in a way to enable them to better handle the rising and falling tides. So far, so good.

They have set aside three key goals for what they want to gain for the company alongside three goals for the workers. In this post, I'll focus on what United wants for its employees. In the next one, I'll talk about what United wants for the company.

For its employees, United wants:

  • Competitive wages, benefits, and work rules
  • An opportunity to benefit financially when United succeeds
  • More sustainable job security by making United less vulnerable to industry downturns
The first point is pretty clear, and that means they want to keep wages low, maybe even lower than they are now though I don't know that for sure. At least, they spend 5 or 6 pages in the deck explaining why their costs are higher than others, so I'm just assuming they're setting the scene for why they can't do much on that front.

The second piece is all about variable compensation. They want to pay a lower base wage but higher amount of compensation based upon company performance. This is great for the company, and it can be great for the employee if the company does well. But this has been a goal for most airlines in the last 30 years, and rarely has it succeeded for long periods of time. United's unions have marginalized previous variable compensation before, unfortunately, but I wonder if they might consider changing their tune. Probably not, even though it's the right way to approach this.

I have no idea what the last piece means, to be quite honest. They're talking about what they want for their employees, but this looks like something they want for themselves, neatly wrapped up as a benefit for job security. I'm not sure exactly what that means in practice, though I'm sure it will become apparent as negotiations ramp up.

In my next post, I'll talk about what United wants for the company.

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