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Strike Fears Loom as United Mechanics Reject Contract

In a setback to United’s new management team, led by Oscar Munoz, the airline’s mechanics today voted to reject the company’s “final offer” for a new wage and benefits package and to authorize a strike.

United’s 9,000-plus mechanics are represented by the Teamsters union; an overwhelming 93 percent of those voting gave a thumbs-down to the airline’s proposed contract.

With gas prices low and profits high, it’s no surprise that workers at United and other airlines are increasingly strident in their contract demands. According to the Teamsters’ news release:

At a time when United Airlines is incredibly profitable, it is clear that mechanics deserve a better offer from the company. United is profitable because of the dedication, passion and professionalism of their workers and the carrier needs to reflect those characteristics in their negotiating position. United needs to come back to the table and deliver an industry-leading contract for our hardworking mechanics.

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The points of contention aren’t so much wages and working conditions for current employees as they are compensation packages for newly-hired workers. While the company offered existing mechanics a 25 percent raise and bonus checks averaging $9,000, new hires would be compensated according to a much less generous B-scale.

Before a strike can be called, the union must secure approval from the National Mediation Board, which is likely to push the two sides to continue negotiating for 30 days. So there’s no likelihood of an imminent strike.

New CEO Munoz has declared it among his top priorities to improve labor relations at United, and successfully negotiated a two-year contract extension with the airline’s pilots in January. But the failure to reach an accommodation with the mechanics may be an early indication of just how contentious future labor negotiations will be, as workers watch the profits roll in and wonder, “Where’s mine?”.

Reader Reality Check

Might we be seeing the beginning of a newly tumultuous period in labor-management relations?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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