No Friendly Skies for United Mechanics

December 4, 2009: Management at United Airlines is violating the contract and the law by harassing Teamster mechanics who take time off when they’re sick.

Is our union doing all it can do protect these new members?

Last May, over 8,000 mechanics at United Airlines voted to leave another union and become Teamsters.

“I supported bringing in the Teamsters because they talked about [how] tough they were with grievances,” said Angel Zamarripa, a mechanic in Local 961 in Denver. “But now management is coming after us harder than ever before on our ‘dependability’.”

The contract at United protects workers who are going to be late for work, or absent because of illness. If workers call in before their shift started, and if they had enough banked sick time, they are protected from discipline.

If the worker doesn’t call in, management can discipline them for “dependability.” That’s how the system worked for decades.

Now management is stretching the meaning of dependability—without re-negotiating the contract.

Management has started to discipline workers even when they’re only one minute late—and management is treating a one-minute late incident like a full missed day, no call, no show.

This isn’t an isolated problem. Mechanics at San Francisco, the largest United station, report that this problem is widespread there.

The “Wellness Center”

Mechanics report that the company’s “Wellness Center” frequently rejects doctor’s notes, and they often delay processing sick time requests. Mechanics have to push to get their sick time paid—and it often does not show up until the next paycheck.

“They want to discourage people from using FMLA and sick time—even though this is protected time off,” says Zamarripa.

It’s clear “wellness” isn’t the company’s real goal.

Officials Back Down

When management started cracking down, members took action. They filed grievances and they circulated a petition.

Unfortunately, union officials didn’t step up to the plate. They backed down.

Officials of Local 961 refused to hear grievances on warnings issued to members because they said the warnings weren’t discipline. And the president of Local 961 refused to look at the petition because of a dues technicality.

Now the company and the new union are implementing a joint union-management board to decide on grievances at the third step.

But all dependability grievances will be held in abeyance until the company and the union both agree to hear them.

That’s a green light for the company to keep violating the contract and harassing members.

This problem is system-wide. Our union needs to take a stand across the board to protect these new members.


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