Following a run of recent dismissals of seasoned crew members, United Airlines took the “unbelievable” step of terminating two key union officials, the powerful Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) slammed in a recent report to its members.
The union’s general counsel, Joe Burns wrote to the airline on Wednesday, warning: “I am in the strongest possible terms urging United management to refrain from raking further action in this matter.”
“The potential damage here threatens to undermine the collaborative relationship that worked so well to get us through the largest crisis ever facing United Airlines and the industry. What we accomplished together in the face of COVID should not so easily be cast aside.”
Tensions between the two sides have been progressively rising since the union filed a complaint against United in June, saying that the airline was “unlawfully interrogating” flight attendants at its Washington, DC headquarters.
The conflict arose after the airline investigated two seasoned union reps and threatened them with disciplinary punishment after they questioned their coworkers about a complaint made by a coworker.
The union was accused of retaliating against a junior flight attendant who filed the complaint while filling in for a long-serving member of the crew.
The current firings, on the other hand, are thought to be linked to a mask issue in which two union reps were photographed unmasked during a trip in 2020.
The flight attendants said the masks fell off while they were sleeping, but the union is accused of obstructing the investigation when United began one.
“For months, the United Master Executive Council and the AFA International Office have encouraged United management to find a solution to the underlying dispute,” wrote AFA’s international president Sara Nelson in an update to United’s flight attendants.
The memo was cosigned by Ken Diaz, the president of AFA’s United branch.
“The action taken by United management makes today a terrible day,” the memo continued. “Management has even gone so far as to try to tell us who will represent our Members. This is unprecedented and unacceptable.”
“While we can’t comment on the specifics of this ongoing matter, let us be clear that United will not tolerate retaliation against employees by anyone – including union representatives – for making a good faith report of a safety violation,” a spokesperson for United Airlines said in an emailed statement about the June 2021 lawsuit.
“We respect the right of AFA, and all unions, to advocate for employees, which is why we would expect them to join us in investigating claims of retaliation raised by one of their members.”