United clinches long-sought deal with flight attendants union

Fri Jun 24, 2016 11:33am EDT
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By Jeffrey Dastin

(Reuters) - United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N: Quote) has reached a deal for the first labor contract in its history that covers all flight attendants at the company, their union and the airline said on Friday, a breakthrough after workers' protests and years of talks.

The deal with union negotiators requires the approval of leaders of United's unit of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA before it formally becomes a "tentative agreement." They are scheduled to meet next week.

The contract, whose terms were not disclosed, will then go to about 25,000 in-flight crew members for a final vote.

Ratification would mark a victory for new Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz, who has sought new contracts and harmony with workers for the No. 3 U.S. airline by passenger traffic.

A contract also would be an important step toward integrating United and Continental and reducing flight cancellations.

Since the airlines merged in 2010, their crews have continued to staff separate flights. That means when a flight is at risk of being canceled because it is short-staffed, United cannot bring in reserve employees from pre-merger Continental if it is on a pre-merger United aircraft.

A ratified contract would remove "artificial barriers holding back United" from functioning well during incidents like winter storms that ground planes, said Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel consultancy Atmosphere Research Group.

United's previous management struggled to propose terms that the two flight attendant groups, which have different work rules and cultures, found palatable.   Continued...

Customers of United wait in line to check in at Newark International airport in New Jersey, November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz