United Continental Holdings Inc.’s flight attendants approved a labor contract that will allow the carrier to put attendants from its two predecessor airlines on the same jets for the first time in the merged company’s six-year history.
The Association of Flight Attendants voted 53 percent in favor of the agreement, the union said in a statement Friday. Top pay rates for the 25,000 members will rise as much as 31 percent, with maximum pay for veterans with at least 13 years of experience set at $62 an hour.
The result is a victory for Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz and his strategy of winning over a disgruntled workforce, even if it means accepting higher costs. United had failed to reach a joint flight-attendant contract since its October 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, so those employees have been separated into a pre-merger United camp, a pre-merger Continental camp and a small group of Continental Micronesia workers.
“The contract provides immediate economic gains, sets a new industry standard and ensures flight attendants can achieve the benefits of a fully integrated airline,” said Sara Nelson, the union’s international president. “This contract would not have been possible without the commitment of Oscar Munoz to unite United Airlines.”
A combined workforce should give United more flexibility in scheduling, especially when a cabin crew runs up against federally mandated allowable work hours and must be replaced. Until now, for example, a Continental crew could only be replaced by another from the same predecessor airline.
Attendants were further split by jet type. For example, Continental employees worked on Boeing Co. 737 jets, while United crews staffed jumbo 747s. Both camps got a piece of the 787 Dreamliner, with Continental crews working on the first 25 to join the company’s fleet and United the next 25.
Union leaders overcame significant opposition over the past six weeks to get members to support the deal. Some from the Continental camp complained that the contract was more generous to United attendants because Continental workers have had a slightly higher wage scale in recent years. Other attendants wanted a signing bonus. The union countered that the airline would have offset any such provision with lower wages.
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