The Wall Street Journal
By Doug Cameron
Updated Dec. 24, 2015 4:27 p.m. ET
Pilots union leaders at United Continental Holdings Inc. agreed to send a proposed contract extension to a vote by members, a spokesman said Thursday.
The airline’s 12,000 aviators are due to start voting on the two-year extension Jan. 5, and majority backing would extend United’s recent success in reaching new deals with its unionized workers.
David Kelly, a spokesman for the master executive council representing United pilots, said its leaders voted this week to accept the tentative agreement.
United shares were recently up 2.4% at $59.78, the best performer among airline stocks.
The airline has suffered from rocky labor relations since its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, and has been trying to smooth that friction under new management that took over in September. Shortly after Oscar Munoz, a railroad executive and United director, was named chief executive when his predecessor was abruptly ousted, Mr. Munoz said one of his priorities was to listen to the company’s 85,000 workers.
Its pilots reached a joint contract in late 2012, two years after the merger. Still, the group has groused periodically about what it sees as poor training, lack of the proper tools to do the job, United’s erratic reliability and other issues. The pilots’ current contract comes open for renewal in late 2017. This fall, United proposed extending the current pact in a round of expedited bargaining that would only cover a few issues. The talks lasted less than 30 days before this agreement was reached.
United declined to comment Thursday, but last month said the proposed deal underscores the “positive, collaborative relationship” between the company and the union leadership. Capt. Jay Heppner, chairman of the ruling council of the Air Line Pilots Association, said polling of the membership indicated the pilots want “industry-leading compensation” without “any concessions.”
The airline last month said it reached a deal to start negotiations with the International Association of Machinists union more than a year before the contract covering 30,000 ramp workers, customer-service agents and reservationists opens for renewal at the end of 2016. The company at that time extended by two years to January 2019 its earlier commitment not to contract out IAM jobs at United hubs and airports. Since 2013, United has outsourced about 2,300 airport jobs to outside vendors to cut costs.
The airline in late October said it has reached a new proposed joint labor agreement for its 9,000 mechanics. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union this week sent the proposal out to a membership vote, with ballots due to be counted on Jan. 25.
Perhaps the trickiest negotiations concern United’s 21,000 flight attendants. They and United have been unable to reach agreement on a joint contract even though they have been bargaining since 2012. The talks are being assisted by federal mediators. But until a tentative deal is reached and then ratified by a majority of the group, the former United attendants are limited to staffing United planes, and the Continental attendants can only fly on Continental aircraft. Flight attendants last week held a world-wide protest in pursuit of a joint contract.
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