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United Reaches Pact with Pilots, Still No Deal for Flight Attendants

United Airlines has come to a tentative collective bargaining agreement with pilot’s union negotiator — the airline’s flight attendants, however, have yet to sign their first unified contract since the merger with Continental.

Despite a rocky start to negotiations, United Airlines is said to have reached a tentative labor deal with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The collective bargaining agreement still requires ratification by the airline’s more than 12,000 union represented pilots. The Chicago Business Journalwhich broke the news of the tentative agreement, reports that negotiations turned a corner soon after the unexpected resignation of beleaguered former United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek.

The airline and ALPA negotiators were, until recently, very publicly at loggerheads over the then CEO’s plans for a $3 billion stock buyback, with union representatives demanding that a portion of that money be used to improve the airline. With Smisek’s departure, the tone of the conversation shifted noticeably.

“The fact that we were able to reach this agreement in principle in fewer than 30 days is a direct result of the positive, collaborative relationship between ALPA leadership,” United Airlines Vice President Mike Bonds told the CBJ.

There is still a long way to go before United Airlines officials will be able to use such rosy language to assess the company’s relationship with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA). The airline has not been able to reach a unified contract with flight attendants in the more than five years since the United Airlines merger with Continental Airlines was first announced. Pre-merger United Airlines flight attendants and former Continental flight attendants still work under separate contracts with separate work rules, separate seniority systems and separate pay scales. Reaching a deal to bring the employees from the two legacy carriers under one contract has proven untenable despite negotiations that are said to have started long before the merger was finalized.

[Photo: United Airlines]

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