CHICAGO (AP) — United Airlines and its pilots’ union said Friday they reached tentative agreement on the outline of a new contract, a notable deal while labor tension has increased in the airline industry.
The leader of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, Michael Hamilton, and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby called it an industry-leading agreement. However, financial details were not disclosed.
The two sides said they were still working on contract language, and that pilots would hold a ratification vote in coming weeks. The union represents about 13,700 pilots, who have been working under terms of a contract that came up for renegotiation in January 2019 — by law, labor contracts at airlines do not expire.
The tentative deal at United contrasts with increasing tension between pilots and management at American, Southwest and Alaska. Pilots, whose numbers were cut through buyouts and early retirement after the pandemic hit, say they are overworked, and they are demanding sizable pay increases.
Alaska Airline pilots began a strike-authorization vote this week. However, federal law includes barriers to legal strikes in the airline industry — they can be blocked by federal mediators or the president.
United threatened to furlough 2,850 pilots in October 2020, when federal pandemic relief briefly expired. The two sides reached a side deal that averted the job losses, and federal aid that also barred furloughs was later reinstated.
Unions hold leverage in current contract talks because of a pilot shortage across the industry, especially among smaller, so-called regional carriers that operate flights for bigger airlines under the United Express, American Eagle, Delta Connection and Horizon Air names.