United Enters Talks Early With 30,000 Workers, Promises No Outsourcing

CHICAGO (Chicago Tribune/TNS) -

United Airlines and employees represented by a machinists union on Friday said they would open contract negotiations more than a year early and expedite talks on a new deal. The airline also promised not to outsource the union’s jobs for the next three-plus years.

Talks affect nearly 30,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in roles like baggage handling, passenger service, reservations and storekeeping.

“This is one of several positive steps we’ve taken recently to demonstrate our firm commitment to our people,” Mike Bonds, United’s executive vice president of human resources and labor relations, said in a statement.

Chicago-based United said last week that it was halting all outsourcing until at least the end of next year. The move came as new CEO Oscar Munoz, out on medical leave until early next year after suffering a heart attack, pledged to improve relations with union workers.

For IAM members specifically, United on Friday said it has extended through Jan. 15, 2019, a commitment not to contract out work now performed by IAM workers at all hub and station airports.

Outsourcing is the biggest issue for IAM members, and getting a promise before talks even begin is a big deal, Mike Klemm, IAM 141 president and directing general chairman, wrote Friday in a bulletin to members.

“We now have industry-best job security,” he wrote. “This is truly a unique opportunity to improve our work lives. Without this agreement, IAM-represented United Airlines employees would have to wait at least until 2017 — and possibly quite longer — to make any contractual improvements.”

United is also engaged in mediated negotiations with the Association of Flight Attendants, the last major group without a joint contract after the 2010 merger of United and Continental. It has also entered into talks with pilots, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, to extend their contract.

United on Oct. 23 announced an agreement with technicians, represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, to put a proposed deal out for a ratification vote.

“Our employees have told us that timely contracts and job protections are important to them, and this announcement is a win-win for the company, the union and our employees,” Greg Hart, United executive vice president and chief operations officer, said in a statement.