United Airlines is boosting pilot salaries by 5% starting in December, an ahead-of-schedule increase for its pilots in the midst of increasingly contentious labor negotiations.
The boost is part of a deal that the carrier cut with the airline pilot during the pandemic slowdown in 2020, which allowed it to cut costs. The boost comes months before the May 2023 deadline that United had to enact it.
According to CNBC, the move was made as a show of good faith during negotiations.
“This is a show of good faith and a down payment on a market-based, industry-leading labor agreement,” United’s SVP of Flight Operations Bryan Quigley wrote in a message to pilots, obtained by CNBC. “It’s also recognition of the role that you played in helping United survive the pandemic and recover so much stronger.”
The two parties still need to hammer out a deal after United pilots represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative agreement with the carrier earlier this month. ALPA said that almost 10,000 United pilots participated in the vote, and 94% of them voted against the proposal.
The proposal, according to ALPA, “fell short of the industry-leading contract United pilots have earned and deserve after leading the airline through the pandemic and back to profitability.” United pilots are still seeking better pay and better scheduling, and the proposal, according to reports, would have given pilots somewhere close to a 15% raise over the next 18 months, not including this new 5% raise.
“It is vital United management recognizes that an industry-leading contract is required to hire, train, and retain the best pilots in the world for the United Next growth plan to success,” United Master Executive Council chair Capt. Mike Hamilton said in a statement at the time.
Just like the Delta vote in October, the rejection of the proposal by United pilots doesn’t mean that a strike is imminent— United pilots in ALPA are planning to organize informal pickets in light of the rejection—but it does show the continued fallout from labor shortages coming out of the pandemic.
Because of forced and unforced retirements by pilots during 2020 and into 2021, as capacity was slashed drastically, carriers are increasingly competing for labor, and the unions that represent almost all major U.S. carriers are negotiating in light of those shortages.
Aside from Delta and United, unions that represent American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, along with pilots from FedEx, have all either rejected new union contracts or turned to federal mediation to close the gaps in negotiations. Unions continue to cite both an increase in airline profitability and larger pay bumps from regional carriers who are more desperate for pilots, as reasons for the rejections.