United Airlines is rethinking a plan to replace its modest monthly bonuses with a lottery system that would have offered large rewards to a few workers at random.
Faced with a backlash from employees, United Airlines said Monday it was “pressing the pause button” on a plan to replace its modest monthly bonuses with a lottery system that would have offered large rewards to a few workers at random.
Last week, an internal United Airlines memo, first obtained by The Chicago Business Journal, announced that the company was doing away with a performance incentive program that awarded workers up to $375 for each quarter that the airline met operational goals.
Instead, employees would enter a lottery system that doled out big prizes, including $100,000 in cash and a Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan. Only workers with perfect attendance records for the quarter would be eligible.
Employees were furious, signing an online petition condemning the decision and voicing their concerns in an internal forum.
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Rewarding a small number of employees at random would be “unfair and unjust,” wrote a petition signer who identified herself as a former United worker in Denver.
“When no one ‘qualifies’ because they called out sick due to the most awful flu in years, or sick children, or life … the company just makes more money for itself,” she wrote. “Service is going to lack, on time departures won’t be fought for and the company will suffer.”
On Monday, the president of United Airlines, Scott Kirby, told employees that the company was rethinking the lottery.
“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you,” he wrote. “So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead.”
United, which has more than 80,000 employees, did not respond to specific questions about either the lottery program or the current bonus program.
That program rewards all eligible employees with up to $125 each month for on-time departures, on-time arrivals and other performance-related measures.
“The employee group that would have been eligible for those bonuses was much larger” than that of the lottery system, Taylor Garland, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, said in a phone interview. The bonuses were given to United’s 24,000 flight attendants, its pilots and gate agents, and others, she said.
Under the lottery system, just 1,361 employees would receive bonuses, according to the United Airlines memo, and only one would be chosen for the top cash prize of $100,000.
According to United’s latest earnings report, employees earned about $30 million in incentive payments for achieving operations performance goals in the fourth quarter ending in December, and about $87 million in earned bonuses in 2017. The report did not break out bonuses for executives and other workers.
The lottery system, with about $18 million in rewards per year available for rank-and-file workers, might have cost the company far less.
A discussion on the airline’s internal forum, obtained by the travel website The Points Guy, included hundreds of comments about the lottery.
“I haven’t seen or heard one positive comment from a front line employee regarding this ‘new and enhanced’ program,” one person wrote. “Upper management is so out of touch with the front line, it would be funny if it weren’t so sad.”