Vote on recall of head of United pilot union delayed

By Julie Johnsson
Posted April 11 at 3:36 p.m.

A vote to recall the head of United Airlines’ pilots union has been postponed until Thursday, sources told the Tribune.

Captain Wendy Morse, the first woman to head a major U.S. pilots union, faced a possible ouster as United’s Air Line Pilots Association leaders gathered for a quarterly meeting in Chicago on Monday. Morse, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

After hours of debate in a room packed with Morse loyalists, the union’s leaders opted to push the vote back to later in the week. Since the recall is an agenda item, under the union’s parliamentary procedures, the action taken may not be a simple up or down vote by the master executive council. The council’s options include to discuss the item, defer it, reject it or to vote to take no action.

A defeat of Morse could signal the start of labor strife that new United CEO Jeff Smisek has sought to avoid as he melds recently merged Continental Airlines and United into the world’s largest carrier and negotiates contracts with every employee group, analysts said.

The mayhem is unusual even for the cutthroat world of airline pilot politics, sources said. Morse, who had been elected chairwoman by a single vote, survived a recall effort before she took office at the start of 2010. The leaders of the union’s Washington, D.C., pilots’ council also face a recall vote on April 22 for aiding the latest effort to dump Morse.

The turmoil reflects a longstanding philosophical divide among airline pilots over whether or confrontation or open dialog is the better way to deal with management under the federal laws that tightly restrict job actions by aviation labor. Over the past two years, both American Airlines and United pilots had voted out militant pilot leaders.

United’s master executive council, whose members set policy and elect the union chairman and other officers, remains almost evenly split between those who favor a get-tough approach to management and moderates such as Morse, who favor keeping channels of communication open and hammering out differences in private.

Since United merged with Continental last year, frustration has grown among rank-and-file pilots over the deliberate pace of talks for a joint contract with management of United Continental Holdings Inc., the carriers’ Chicago-based parent company. United pilots are eager to get out of a bankruptcy-era contract that slashed average pay by about 40 percent.

The resolution to oust Morse came out of a no-confidence vote approved by the Washington council March 25, according to documents obtained by the Tribune. The measure claimed Morse was an ineffective leader who wasn’t using the union’s leverage to speed up talks.

Council chairman Steve Brashear didn’t return phone calls.

“Whereas we continue to be saddled with the ‘wait and see’ responses from her with respect to our contract,” the resolution stated. “While we ‘wait and see,’ United management is saving millions of dollars on the backs of this labor group once again.”

Morse’s supporters claim she is being used as a scapegoat, and that contract talks, while cumbersome, are moving forward. They say ousting Morse could inflame divisions among Continental pilots and lead to a situation like US Airways’, whose deeply-divided pilots are stuck with a bankruptcy-era contract six years after merging with America West Airlines.

If the recall occurs, “what follows in terms of the culture between the pilots and United Airlines is going to make what is going on at US Airways look like a day at Disney World,” predicted a United pilot who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “And anybody who thinks that a contract would result from the mayhem created by that culture is living in a fantasy land.”

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  1. Jeff Kleymann April 12 at 10:16 pm

    Dear Julie,

    Please be “Fair and Balanced” and call me and I will tell you why Wendy Morse must go- as I beleive she has been bought by United Management in an effort to keep us from getting an Industry Leading Contract. We also outsourced our maintenance and flying to the lowest bidder. Please call me in the morning at the following numbers
    Jeff Kleymann

  2. Old UAL/CAL Pilot April 13 at 2:46 pm

    Mr. Kleymann,

    To quote the last lines of the article, “And anybody who thinks that a contract would result from the mayhem created by that culture is living in a fantasy land.”

    Many pilots do live in a “fantasy land.” To think that Wendy Morse has been “bought” by “United Management” in an effort to prevent you from getting an “Industry Leading Contract” totally ignores the fact that 80% of current United/Continental management in high profile divisions was at Continental Airlines up until six months ago, running a pretty tight operation for the last 15 to 20 years. It is a Continental management team and operation using the United name and there hasn’t been enough time elapsed to “buy” anybody. Yours is the most ludicrous, paranoid BS I’ve heard in a long time.

    “Industry leading” and what you think you deserve and want is irrelevant in the world of RLA contract negotiations in a deregulated, ultra-competitive industry. The only relevancy is what is achievable (i before e except after c)…and what is achievable is based upon two factors only, where you sit contractually to your peers/competition in the labor group and what the economy is doing…period. There isn’t a surviving management team in this industry that would sign up to any labor contract that they thought was not competitive or sustainable irrespective of your opinion.

    More importantly, all contract TA’s have to get by both MEC’s and ultimately a joint pilot ratification. “Buying” Wendy Morse or not isn’t going to matter when one additionally considers it is a joint negotiating committee. You are totally off base.

    Old UAL/CAL pilot

  3. Russ webber April 13 at 5:26 pm

    Old UAL Pilot- Your analysis is dead on. Without keeping an eye on the clock any gains that were available will be eroded by the passage of time. Figure out what is available, close the deal, and start the clock towards the next round of talks. A simple effective concept lost on too many pilots wishing for the good old days to come back.
    Current US AIRWAYs pilot

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