One hotly contested issue that has been going on behind the scenes with the Continental/United merger is which union will represent the flight attendants of the “combined” United. Previously the IAM (International Association of Machinists) represented Continental’s flight attendants while the AFA (Association of Flight Attendants) represented United’s flight attendants.
Well, the results are in, and it seems that the AFA will be representing flight attendants at the “new” United, having won 55% of the votes. That’s not all that surprising given that “legacy” United had more flight attendants, which translates to more votes.
While it doesn’t have a direct impact on me, I have plenty of friends that are flight attendants, and over the past few months I’ve had quite a few conversations about this with them.
One of the major issues on the line here was how to combine the seniority lists of the two airlines. United’s flight attendants, on the whole, are more senior than Continental’s flight attendants. The logical way to “merge” seniority lists is to do so by hire date. Obviously the AFA is for that, given that they represent flight attendants that are on average more senior. If the list were merged that way, a mid-range seniority United flight attendant would suddenly have a higher relative seniority, while a mid-range seniority Continental flight attendant would have lower relative seniority at the new United.
I can see both sides here. If I’m a flight attendant for United and have 25 years seniority and get to mostly work flights to Asia, there’s no way I want a more junior flight attendant (in absolute terms) at Continental “outbidding” me. At the same time, if I’m a senior Continental flight attendant, it doesn’t seem fair that I have to go from flying almost exclusively internationally to ending up back on domestic flights.
I will say this, though. Based on everything I’ve heard and seen, the AFA has been all about preserving the current United system. The IAM, on the other hand, has been touting that they basically want to “start from scratch” and rebuild the way they think about the profession. That might just be hype or it might be sincere, who knows. The end result, however, has been that Continental’s workforce is much less hostile towards management than United’s (and I don’t know the reason for that, it could be because the union is better, it could be because Continental’s management is better, or it could be a little bit of both).
But here’s where it gets interesting. I have a handful of (legacy) United flight attendant friends that I’ve talked to this about. They’re the “good ones,” or else I wouldn’t be friends with them. I’ve flown with all of them. Without exception, every one of those flight attendants supported the IAM.
Why? The answers ranged anywhere from the potential for better pay, to a less “whiny” union that blames management for everything instead of trying to negotiate with them, to making the airline better for all (and by that they mean looking at reserves too, and not just the more senior flight attendants). The AFA has always had a “whatever it takes” mentality when it comes to negotiating just about anything, yet we’ve seen that it hasn’t gotten them anywhere (United’s flight attendants are paid substantially less than Continental’s), while the IAM has been more about making it work for both parties.
Regardless where you stand on this debate or unions as a whole, let’s hope the integration is smooth and that this doesn’t cause hostility between the two workforces as they’re integrated.