Wednesday, June 25, 2008

United pilots decry furloughs as 'drastic over-reaction'

United AirlinesWhat a difference a year makes: Last July, I wrote in this blog that United Airlines was recruiting 100 new pilots. Now, barely a year later, United has announced plans to furlough 950 pilots, with the first furlough notices scheduled to go out next month.

It should surprise no one that pilot furloughs were coming in the wake of of United's decision to reduce capacity by eliminating all Boeing 737 aircraft from its fleet, along with six Boeing 747-400s. Neither should it be surprising that the United pilots' union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), is not happy about these developments.

Yesterday, the United Master Executive Council (MEC) of ALPA issued a message to United pilots in which MEC Chairman Captain Steve Wallach expressed frustration with negotiations between management and the pilots' union regarding plans for fleet reduction and the effect on pilot livelihoods, saying "Even while discussions were taking place last week, the company continued to treat their planned furlough numbers as confidential information, and, as such, we were not able to report their manpower proposal to you."

Wallach said that, while the union is continuing to talk with management about ways to lessen the impact of involuntary pilot furloughs, they have made "meager progress." Wallach stated:
We believe United’s fleet reduction, as compared to our competitors, is a drastic over-reaction to current market realities. We think that the company is being overly pessimistic about our ability to compete. And we know that the company’s timetable for accomplishing their manpower reduction is overly ambitious, if not simply unachievable.

While we remain hopeful that we can reduce some of the furloughs, manpower reduction will be the near term reality for United pilots until the company alters its business plan. For the sake of our pilots and other employees, the customers, and United’s shareholders, we hope that our management isn’t placing our company in yet another untenable and poorly considered market position.
Acknowledging that the wait to learn their fate has been "agonizing" for United pilots, Wallach said that the MEC expects to have negotiations completed by the end of next week.