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United attendants back first combined contract since Continental merger

ATLANTA — United Continental Holdings Inc.’s flight attendants approved a labor contract that will allow the carrier to put attendants from its two predecessor airlines on the same jets for the first time in the merged company’s six-year history.

The Association of Flight Attendants voted 53 percent in favor of the five-year agreement, the union said in a statement Friday. Top rates for the 25,000 members will rise as much as 31 percent, with maximum pay for veterans with at least 13 years of experience set at $62 an hour. Flight attendants are generally paid hourly rates only for in-flight time, which averages 80 to 85 hours a month.


The result is a victory for chief executive Oscar Munoz and his strategy of winning over a disgruntled workforce, even if it means accepting higher costs. United had failed to reach a joint flight-attendant contract since its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines, so those employees have been separated into a pre-merger United camp, a pre-merger Continental camp, and a small group of Continental Micronesia workers.

“When I took this job last year, I promised to turn the page and write a new chapter in our approach to labor and management relation at United,” Munoz said in a statement. “Thanks to today’s vote, I am proud to say that so far this year we’ve ratified new agreements covering more than 65,000 of our employees.”

With the vote, United’s mechanics are the only organized labor group at the carrier with a divided workforce. United is in negotiations with those Teamsters-represented employees.

A combined group of flight attendants should give United more flexibility in scheduling. Until now, for example, a Continental crew could only be replaced by another from the same predecessor airline.