Free cars part of culture shift at merged United

By Julie Johnsson
Posted Dec. 15, 2010 at 1:38 p.m.

United Airlines workers with perfect attendance for six months may be eligible to win a free car under a new employee perk that takes effect Jan. 1.

The morale-boosting effort is one of the first public campaigns by parent United Continental Holdings Inc. to stamp Continental Airlines’ culture on its larger merger partner. During the past decade, Continental has given away more than 180 vehicles to its employees.

“Perfect attendance helps United provide consistent, reliable service to customers, and it also reduces our costs,” said United CEO Jeff Smisek, who prior to the merger headed Continental.

Under the latest iteration of the Perfect Attendance Plan, which will be open to both United and Continental employees, Chicago-based United will give away 11 new cars annually and pay all taxes associated with each vehicle. Employees with perfect attendance over a six-month stretch will also be eligible to win either $50 in cash, a $50 donation to charity or 5,000 frequent flier miles.

Cultural issues have been a top priority for Smisek since the Oct. 1 merger, and he’s criss-crossed the sprawling carrier to meet with employees. Smisek is attempting to minimize merger distractions and implant Continental’s customer-focused culture at United, difficult tasks given its sheer size as the world’s largest carrier.

United and Continental pilot union leaders, meanwhile, say they are united — in their resolve to push Smisek’s team to boost pilot pay and reduce the carrier’s dependence on outsourcing through ongoing contract talks. Gaining a joint collective bargaining agreement is a crucial step towards fully integrating the two airlines, which must operate separately until United Continental gains a single operating certificate from federal authorities.

The two pilot groups are mindful of the leverage they hold and have resolved differences over pay, which were made public earlier this fall, according to an internal union communiqué.

Meanwhile, Continental’s union leaders and United executives are meeting in Los Angeles with an arbitrator to try to resolve a disagreement over the carrier’s plans to introduce 70-jet United Express flights to Continental’s hubs, Jan. 1. Pilot officials claim the new flights violate outsourcing provisions in Continental pilot contracts. United officials say the flights are permissible.

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  1. RegularGuy Dec. 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I hope the recipients enjoy their cars, especially knowing that they were paid for by wiping out the pensions of tens of thousands of retired employees.

    This is simply OBSCENE.

  2. moltikon Dec. 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    With all the money they steal from passengers by charging for luggage they can now afford giving away cars.

  3. B in PS Dec. 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    It’s unforntunate but I think that Continental will eventually devolve into the United style of 3rd class cheapness and mostly surly (with justice) employees.

  4. Brian Dec. 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Here’s a better incentive to show up for work, they let you keep your job.

  5. los angeles ramp workers Dec. 15, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    I know the people of Los Angeles would perfer that they were treated with respect for what they have given up and the work conditions they are put thru on a daily basis. Its apparent their will be no Continental culture occuring in Lax. The announcement of no changes in upper management and the lack of manpower only indicates because of our outstanding performance as a hub we will continue to deal with the situation. GET ready for plenty of E-mail Mr SMISEK from your loyal continetal employees who will become familiar with UAL culture real soon…..

  6. David Dec. 15, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I work for CO and I look forward to the day whe I can drive home in a new car, and all I have to do is go to work, duh!

  7. Flyee Dec. 16, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I hope the bitter UA employees cheer up.

    The perfect attendance program pays for itself: Employees call in sick less. As a result, there is less overtime paid to others who would have to “fill in” for sick outages. It’s also “no fun” to be on duty when there’s a sick call and you end up having to stay overtime. Less sick calls is better for everyone, great incentive program.

    UA pilots hopefully will do their own research to see what happens to an airline if their work group becomes too expensive in comparison to it’s competitors. I’ll sum it up, you are at risk of putting your airline out of business. Highest pay and most restrictive work rules = least job security. At least that’s what I learned in ECON101.

    LAX ramp worker above: I hope you are joking. Trend has been to contract out ramp workers for $10 an hour with no benefits. Do you remember what happened to Alaska Airlines mainline ramp in SEA? Gone.

  8. Dirkmeister Dec. 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    The Pilots of United gave up 5 billion in concession to save the airline together with the mechanics, cabin crew, ramp workers and CSR….they can keep their KIA and give us what is due to us…..instead of rewarding themselves with 100 million payout the top 250 top execs plan on paying themselves.

  9. los angeles ramp workers Dec. 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    lmao overtime for people calling in sick ? what world do you live in .todays business world u just do with the manpower allocated .MUST be teaching something new in colleges that they didnt teach when I received my degree. A little brushing up on the union world ual ramp workers are represented by the I.A.M and have been for 30 plus years. IT was the union workers who gave up pay raises,pensions,and benefits to keep the company running. Its the guy making $10.00 that abuses FMLA ,caresless if you recieve your luggage and calls in sick when it rains not the individual that make these jobs careers.

  10. los angeles ramp workers Dec. 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    A little homework flyee for your econ 101 class. research which airline has leading industry wages and benifits and has the motto treat your employees like your customers.curious to know how many losing quarters they have had. hint s o th west. you might want to get a tutor

  11. Flyee Dec. 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Incentive program is designed to encourage less sick calls so that there are less sick calls at places such as LAX ramp, where apparently they don’t cover sick calls with overtime.

    This is a win-win perfect attendance program for you. Less sick calls means you are more likely to have adequate (sufficient) staffing. Better productivity systemwide due to less sick calls = money available to give incentives, a win win. Yes, the pilots and ramp and everyone gave back much money to save their airline. It’s a profitable year but still major airlines are in huge debt. Give raises until the airline goes out of business is a model employees of Eastern, Braniff, Pan Am Eastern wish didn’t happen. They became so unionized, so inefficient and so expensive they toppled. WN (Southwest) operates via a different model than the global carriers. They’ve been operating (until Airtan) 1 type of aircraft with one class of service and got lucky with a few years of fuel hedges.
    Build up your airline to make it achieve sustained profitability. A consistently profitable company will be in position to give raises. If you are bitter about mgmt pay, then apply for a position and join the ranks. Seems they are in a precarious situation with the UA/CO merger. Most managers are re-interviewing and many will be cut. Risk=reward. Keep throwing bags for 20 plus an hour and shut up, or join the mgmt ranks and solve the problem.

  12. ex-ual Dec. 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    As an ex ual mechanic who resigned a few years ago, I can tell you that the bitterness at ua runs deep, a free car ? are you kidding me !!!
    What about our stolen ESOP stock ? Pension ? outsourced work ? benefit cuts ? and if you think a ramp guy will work in all weather think about this. When ua outsourced fueling to the lowest bidder, I was in Chicago and the first really cold day of the year, only 2 fuelers showed up and when a pilot who was flying to London asked me when he was going to get fueled I said “It’s cold out side, only a couple fuelers showed up’.
    You get what you pay for. I am very happy I left ua, when I was hired in ‘90 it was a good airline, look what 20 years of bad mngmt can do.