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Letter to United Airlines Employees

Steve B Hay, Chairman, ALPA Council 33

May 17, 2000


Dear fellow United Airlines employee, 

Like you, I have read the media reports blaming United's pilots for recent flight cancellations. I am absolutely appalled that United management would circulate such nonsense. As concerned owners and employees, United's pilots have been advising management for quite some time that habitual understaffing was reaching critical levels. Now pilots are being blamed for management's inability to properly staff the airline. In the true spirit of Dilbert, it seems there is no management screw-up too blatant to blame on employees. 

As recently as last fall, ALPA worked together with United management to ensure that United's pilot training capacity would be sufficient to satisfy demand. But the steps taken were to no avail as management unilaterally decided to curtail much of the contemplated training. Nonetheless, management has unabashedly vilified pilots for the resulting pilot shortage.

Year after year pilots have worked during their vacation in exchange for a promise that it won't happen again and that the time off they are owed will be available "next year." Promotions have frequently been delayed because United could not fill the position that would be vacated. United's flight instructors have repeatedly abandoned their training duties to fly trips that would otherwise cancel. Pilots have often worked on their days off. Pilots have been forced to deadhead all over the system in a "rob Peter to pay Paul" effort to resolve spot shortages. Crew schedulers have resorted to illegally assigning pilots as their only recourse for management's manpower blunders. 

Yet, in spite of these extraordinary efforts, United still habitually cancels flights due to inadequate staffing. In fact, the corporate response when employees overcome shortages has been to cut staffing thinner and thinner. This is because United's pilot manpower model tolerates a certain level of flight cancellations. Basing manpower requirements on an "acceptable" number of cancellations may simplify manpower planning, but it perpetrates a serious disservice on our customers as well as other employees and belies any stated commitment to excellence. 

Nearly six years ago we all embarked on the experiment of employee ownership. The painful financial sacrifices we shared seemed justified by the goal of making United Airlines a model corporate citizen. We sought to make United an ideal workplace while producing an exceptional product for our customers. Perhaps we were a bit naive to think we could easily convince management to embrace such lofty goals. Instead of their cooperation, it appears we've been left with the same old pattern of corporate mediocrity and executive greed. 

The enthusiasm we all shared six years ago has been squandered. Employee input has been ignored or rebuffed. Good faith attempts to overcome mismanagement has only encouraged more of the same. Adding insult to injury, the recent airing of false accusations to the general public has left United's pilots disillusioned and angry. While this public slander can never be undone, we hope our fellow employees will see through the charade. Otherwise we fear management's tactics will tear apart employee cooperation, the very fabric of any successful business. 

Regardless of how you may feel about current circumstances, we implore every employee to help ease passenger apprehension. Nothing can be gained by unnecessarily agitating our precious customers and there is so much to lose. 


Steve B. Hay
Chairman, ALPA Council 33