UAL and Continental reach agreements with pilots

By Julie Johnsson
Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:56 p.m.

United Airlines and Continental Airlines said Tuesday they hammered out transition agreements with their pilots’ unions, a critical step towards reaching a broader labor accord with pilots.

Talks between the merging airlines and pilots were halted late last month due to a dispute between Chicago-based United and its pilots over lay-off protections, sources told the Tribune.

At the time, the four sides were close to hammering out “Transition and Process” agreements that provide a framework for operations until the merging carriers gain a single FAA operating certificate, a process targeted to be completed during 2012.

Terms of the new agreement weren’t made public. But the deal, reached in principle in recent days, means the merging airlines can begin talks on a new joint collective bargaining agreement that’s critical to winning pilots support for their mega-deal.

“While it’s encouraging that we were able to help steer the managements of United and Continental back to the table to achieve this agreement in principle on a Transition Agreement with the pilots, the governing bodies of both United and CAL (master executive committees) must still review and approve a final agreement,” United’s pilots union said in a statement Tuesday. They added that “the focus of the pilots remains on getting a joint collective bargaining agreement that is commensurate with the value the pilots bring to this merger.”

The two carriers are modeling their merger after that of Delta Air Lines, which struck quick deals with pilots as it acquired Northwest Airlines in 2008, eliminating much of the labor strife that has undermined other airline mergers.

But United’s talks foundered last month after its pilots sought assurances from management that it wouldn’t cut pilot jobs as it melds operations with Continental.

Delta guaranteed its pilots that their jobs wouldn’t be jeopardized by its merger, and Continental’s pilots have a clause in their current contract that bars furloughs from the date a merger agreement is signed until one year after operations are merged.

Without similar contractual protection, “United would be allowed to furlough pilots while Continental recalls its furloughees and begins hiring anew,” Captain Jay Heppner, chairman of the United pilots negotiating committee, wrote in a May 16 email to pilots.

“Despite the fact that all the United and Continental pilots will eventually work for the same airline, there currently exists, due to the differences in each carrier’s contract, the potential for disparate treatment between the two pilot groups during the transition into a single air carrier,” Heppner added.

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One comment:

  1. AChgoGuy July 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Now if they could agree to use United’s “tulip logo” with Continental’s livery! That Continental globe logo is UGLY!