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Picketing United Workers Welcome GBTA Delegates To Denver

Denver - Unionized employee groups for United Airlines and Continental Airlines on Sunday picketed in front of the Colorado Convention Center here just as the Global Business Travel Association was kicking off its annual convention. Chief among the flight attendants' and pilots' complaints are management's efforts to outsource more flying to regional feeder carriers. They also want pay raises, and they want United Continental Holdings CEO Jeff Smisek, appearing at the opening session of the GBTA conference, to hear their voices. [more]

According to one picketing United pilot, executives of the merged company received bonuses ranging up to 30 percent while he and his colleagues have seen their pay cut by about that much, dating back to UAL Corp.'s bankruptcy reorganization. Subsequent pay raises, he said, have been minor, in the 1.5 percent range, which doesn't even cover inflation.

Both United's and Continental's pilots unions currently have open contracts, and the next step in establishing a joint collective bargaining agreement, according to one picketer, is "fully in management's court now."

When asked why they were picketing here, another United pilot explained that as management attempts to position the airline as a business travel carrier, the unions felt it necesary to share their discontent with the business travel industry. When asked if the demonstration would have occurred even if Smisek wasn't about to address GBTA convention delegates, the pilot said yes. After all, he pointed out that Denver is a pretty important market for the airline.

Pilots on another picket line on the opposite side of the convention center explained why they are against further outsourcing of flying to regional affiliates: customers expect to get mainline service when they book a mainline flight.

Would the pilots agree to further outsourcing if management agreed to bump their pay? "That's not going to happen," said one United pilot. Additional outsourcing, he said, is "a non-starter." If anything, according to a Continental pilot, the unions want management to reverse course and bring previously outsourced flying back to the mainline operations.

The Continental pilot also took issue with Smisek's assertions that he assembled the world's largest airline by steering Continental and United through last year's merger. "He hasn't done that," the pilot said, noting how the carriers remain separate in many respects, including collective bargaining agreements. "All he has assembled is a holding company."

GBTA executive director Mike McCormick seemed to take the unions' demonstration in stride. "You can see the enthusiasm, the energy and the love," he told deletgates at the opening session of the convention. "And that's just the Jeff Smisek Fan Club picketing outside."