United Airlines is preparing to furlough 685 flight attendants after offers of leaves and part- time work failed to produce enough volunteers to forestall job cuts at the world's second-largest carrier.
Negotiations between the airline and the Association of Flight Attendants are still under way, and the current furlough total may fall, Christen David, a United spokeswoman, said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
“Successful airlines do not lay off workers, they work with the union for solutions,” Greg Davidowitch, president of United's AFA chapter, told members in a letter on the union's website. “We continue to meet with management and offer creative solutions to an involuntary furlough; while also addressing the company's needs to mitigate an overage in manpower.”
The cuts come as parent United Continental Holdings works to make good on a promise to investors to pare annual spending by $2 billion. The Chicago-based company, created in a merger with Continental Airlines in 2010, has struggled to curb expenses growing faster than revenue for each seat flown a mile.
Earnings growth trailed peers' in the third quarter, and United is counting on an overhaul of its fleet to swap gas- guzzling jets with more fuel-efficient models. A 62 percent stock gain in 2013 still trailed the 78 percent surge for the nine-carrier Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index.
Davidowitch told members in December that the airline sought to eliminate 1,950 positions. In Wednesday's message, he said United accepted voluntary-leave bids from 1,113 attendants and will let others fly part-time.
While merged on paper, United still operates as three separate subsidiaries — United, Continental and Continental Micronesia — in dealings with flight attendants and many other unionized workers.
That's because the carrier hasn't negotiated joint collective bargaining agreements yet with unions representing United and Continental flight attendants, said Christopher Clarke, a spokesman for the United chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants.
The airline offered United attendants a “cross-over program” to work with the former Continental employees, said David, the company spokeswoman.
United was familiar with job cuts before the merger, too, as it shrank employment to 47,000 at the end of 2009 from 55,000 two years earlier, regulatory filings show. Those moves were driven in part by reductions in flying in 2009, when the U.S. industry underwent its biggest retrenchment since World War II.