If United Airlines thought employee protest over its bonus cutback would fizzle out over the weekend, it could not have been more wrong.
In fact, I haven’t seen so much anger, disappointment, and fear from United Airlines’ employees since the waning days of Jeff Smisek.
1. “This is insulting and a poor idea, to put it mildly.” –First Officer – B-767/B-757
2. “I would be embarrassed and mortified to win this lottery. If it was possible I wouldn’t allow my name to be released and I would give my ‘winnings’ to the Flight Attendant AFA Cause Charity. I win at the expense of tens of thousands of fellow employees? No thanks.” –Flight Attendant
3. “Awful idea. [Current] bonus program has everyone pulling in the same direction with a common goal. This is scratching a lottery ticket…” –Captain – B-737
4. “It occurred to me and my wife that this is terribly unfair to single parents. … Imagine your child coming home sick from school, no fault of your own. You are faced with calling in sick thus losing your ‘chance’ at a bonus or leaving your child/children home alone to care for themselves. What a terrible situation United has put that person in.” –First Officer – B-767/B-757
5. “I can’t imagine driving the Mercedes into the employee lot while everyone around me that worked just as hard, or harder got nothing. I would feel like such a jerk. It’s quite telling about the people who thought this up. I bet they would be gloating happily if they won.” –Flight Attendant – Domestic
6. “Respectfully…. there are many employees who depend on those bonuses and work their butts off to achieve them. Turning it to a lottery disincentivizes the hard work because most wont see a penny.” –Captain – B-737
7. “Not cool.” –Flight Attendant
8. “It felt like we had just gotten to a place where employee morale was up. It took so many years for people to feel good about what was happening. In one fell swoop, it is crushed again. … Please rethink this decision.” –Customer Service Representative
9. “If I wanted to play in a lottery, I would just go my local 7/11. I recommend United management reconsider this morale killing program.” –Captain – A-320
10. “We were finally all pulling from the same end of the rope. … Let’s fix this now and get back on track.” –Captain – B-737
11. “Sorry, divisive and wrong!!”–Flight Attendant – Domestic
12. “This is an insult to every single employee at UAL. Spin it however you want, but you’re still taking money out of our pockets and putting it into yours, Scott Kirby. Shame on you. Shame on you.” –Captain – B-737
13. “When I win the $100,000 drawing…..I am going to hire some young kid to write my 84,000 teammates each a check for $1.19 and share the reward with those who helped ME win this reward…..on YOUR hard work!” –First Officer – B-777
14. “Way to “Unite”…. Disappointing to say the least….” –First Officer – B-767/B-757
15. “Guess next time I get the flu I’ll still drag myself to work, because the company only rewards all our hard work to make this company a success if we never call in sick. I’ll say sorry now to all the other employees I infect. … This is a sad day at United.”–Flight Attendant – Domestic
16. “This sounds like a game show with cash prizes and lets see who gets the spin of the wheel. This doesn’t sound like a plan that even attempts to show value, respect and appreciation for the work of its employees.” –Flight Attendant – Domestic
17. “WOW! Looks like We are United against this ill thought out incentive program. Let’s see if We will be listened to. I would love to see 80,000 comments against this bad idea. I am also proud of all the front line employees who have spoken their minds on this issue.” –First Officer – B-777
According to Flyertalk, over 2,000 employees have weighed in on Flying Together concerning the changes. The only positive comments are management replies addressing disgruntled employees.
Meanwhile, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has released a formal statement on the new bonus structure (.pdf).
Our strong recommendation to management was to reconsider the chosen path forward. To our dismay, not only were the preliminary details of the program communicated to employees, the company’s announcement was the first time we heard many of the more restrictive details contained in the announcement.
To be clear – this program was not negotiated with the Union. It was unilaterally determined by management. While we were surprised by some of the components of the program, there is no part of the reaction by Flight Attendants and other employees that surprises us. It is exactly what we expected and predicted.
Many employees had questioned why the AFA and other union groups had not stepped in to “protect” them. The AFA essentially argues it was beyond their control.
Why Does This Matter?
Those of who fly United Airlines regularly remember the dark years of bankruptcy and the low morale of the late Smisek era. There is never any defense for poor service, but employee morale is directly related to how passengers are treated over the phone, at airports, and in the air.
This is the reason I have written about this issue three times.
The Obvious Solution: Revert to Old System
The ironic thing is that United Airlines can win back the support of its workers (and then some) by simply reverting to the old system. That’s my opinion, of course, and I note the irony of winning praise for giving employees exactly what they’ve had for years in a time of sustained profit. Even so, it would be a gesture demonstrating that United listens to employees and takes their concerns seriously. No, United would not be able to slash bonus costs as planned, but it would not cost the company additional dollars. It’s not like employees were asking for a larger bonus…
I just don’t understand how Kirby and his team could be so tone deaf. It’s not like Kirby also pledged to leave his millions of dollars in annual bonus to a lottery system.
While the solution may be obvious, I’m not holding out hope for a quick solution in favor of employees.
The other ironic aspect of this bonus change is that United employees are once again united. Sadly, it is against management.