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United Airlines cabin crew in Hong Kong in last-ditch effort to keep jobs

08/17/2020| 11:08:02 PM|

A third of its staff – or 36,000 employees – in the US have been warned their jobs were at risk.

United Airlines’ flight attendants union will head to expedited arbitration with the company next week in a last-ditch effort to stop some 689 non-US based cabin crew, including 230 in Hong Kong, from losing their jobs on October 1.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wanted the crew relocated to London to ensure they retained their jobs. Some 151 of the 840 originally at-risk staff would retain their jobs as they were eligible to work in the US, but must relocate.

Airlines are planning mass job cuts to avoid running out of money as the coronavirus becomes the worst crisis to hit the aviation sector in its history.

“When the crews were hired, during the criteria for hiring and a pre-hire contract, it did not specify a criteria for flight attendants was to hold a US passport,” said Kimberly Johnson, the union’s chief representative in Hong Kong.

Johnson wanted United to offer two options to save the affected staff – transfer all remaining crew to London, or reconsider keeping Narita open and absorbing all 689 staff there.

“Despite weeks of discussions with union leadership about alternative options related to the closure … we are disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement on solutions that both parties found acceptable,” the airline said in response.

The union said the earlier talks with United fell apart quickly. United was said to have offered part-time work in London.

This was rejected given the excessive commute for the Hong Kong members and creating “two sets” of flight attendants when all “were equal” in the union’s eyes.

United said despite its drastic cost-cutting and cash raising efforts “we continue to need to make tough decisions to survive this crisis because of the historic drop in air travel demand”.

A third of its staff – or 36,000 employees – in the US have been warned their jobs were at risk.

Since the crisis ensued, United raised US$16.1 billion, including a substantial sum of federal government help covering the cost of wages up to the end of September – which prohibited cutting or furloughing staff.

The airline has lost US$3.3 billion in the first six months of the year, and is expected to slow its US$40 million a day cash burn to US$25 million in the coming months.

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