United Pilots: UAL Survey Confirms Neglect of Employees

I saw this press release today on ALPA’s website, which I check daily (partly for entertainment, partly to see when they play the hat game, and partly to see what’s new with the union). Unfortunately the results here are sad, although I’m not sure whether or not I believe that the numbers totally reflect the views of the employees. First let me say that in general I’m not pro-union, at least the type of unions we have nowadays. I don’t want to go too far into my beliefs, but I do also believe in social capitalism, and that involves not screwing the employees beyond end, something UA may or may not have done.

Do I think the pilots are being “neglected,” as the headline reads? I think that’s a pretty strong word, especially in a free market economy. Are they being treated with utmost respect from upper management? I would say probably not. Here are just a few points I’d like to comment on.

— United claims that employee engagement remained stable from the survey conducted two years ago. In truth, engagement is low and getting lower — 29 percent today vs. 30 percent in 2006.

Are they serious about this? I’m no statistician, but comparing survey results that fall two years apart and saying that engagement is “low and getting lower” seems like a strong statement based on a decrease of 1%.

— United claims that employee Pride in United remains the highest scored item, but even those numbers dropped significantly from two years ago. This years survey shows that only 38 percent of United employees take pride in United, down 15 percentage points from 2006.

This is the figure that makes me the saddest. I totally understand the frustration of the employees of United with upper management, but at the same time I really wish it wouldn’t change their pride in what they do everyday. I understand morale is low and overall employees aren’t particularly happy, but at the same time some of the best human beings I know work for United, and my day-to-day interactions with them are generally nothing short of excellent. That might be because I approach them with respect and a smile, but I observe it all around. Whenever I can I try to bring the crews chocolate, hand out Going The Extra Mile cards whenever deserved, and always thank them for a great flight when they do a good job. I understand a lot of their financial incentive in the success of United is gone, but I still think a great majority of them love United. Heck, here’s an example of how amazing United can be on a good day. For me United is the 60,000 amazing employees, many of which are great, and not the upper management. I’m not sure what else to say, but it’s just something that makes me very sad.

73 percent are looking for new jobs

Hmm, I’m not really sure what to think about this, it really makes me question the validity of the other results since I really think there’s no way this is correct, and it has nothing to do with UA’s management style. Pilots, for example, are left very little choice. Once you’re with a US airline all that matters is your seniority, as you can’t transfer airlines without starting at the bottom, short of going to certain foreign carriers. Pilots make up a good percent of the workforce, and I can’t possibly imagine that basically everyone else is looking for a new job. Again, a very surprising statistic!

Time will tell whether United’s executives will use the results from this survey in a positive way, said Captain Wallach.

And I really hope they do. If United wants to compete with the best global carriers they’ll consistently need dedicated, motivated, friendly, and enthusiastic employees. There’s no doubt in my mind that United as a whole has those traits, even if they’re hidden deep inside employees sometimes. You can totally forget about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new seats and service enhancements if the people you interact with don’t seem as if they genuinely want to be there. Time will tell, but I really do think it’s time employee/management relations improve, whatever it may happen.

I find the whole concept of the survey to be somewhat flawed. It’s kind of like filling out one of those in-room hotel surveys. If there was one thing about your stay which was truly awful you’re more likely to mark everything as awful just to make a point to the hotel and to hope they’ll listen. Similarly, I do believe some of these statistics are slightly inflated, but that doesn’t change the overall message, that employees aren’t exactly happy as a whole.

 Thoughts? I’d love to hear what others think!

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