It was only a matter of time before United outsourced more

United Airlines gave notice to its customer service union this week that it is considering the outsourcing of jobs at some 28 airports in the network. The notification starts a 60-day waiting period during which United and the Union are required to meet and discuss the outsourcing proposal, possible changes to the employment contracts at that station and other conditions which might prevent the loss of those union jobs. Based on the Union’s response to the announcement it is clear that this move has been in the works for some time. In a statement released last Saturday the Union indicated that it was aware some number of proposals were being sent out to vendors “several months ago.” Now the identity of those 28 airports is known: ANC, ATL, BDL, BIL, BNA, BOI, GEG, GSO, IND, JAX, MCI, MFE, MIA, OKC, OMA, ONT, ORF, PBI, PVD, RDU, RIC, RNO, RSW, SAT, SJC, SMF, STL, TUL. Last time around the negotiations saved the union jobs at 3 of the 15 stations which had cuts proposed so it is possible that some will be saved here as well.


And while the Union apparently knew that this was potentially coming for a couple months now, the writing has been on the wall for rather longer. One need only go look at the current contract to get a feel for how likely such moves are.

1. Contracting Out of Core Work

a. The Company will not contract out to outside vendor(s) the “core” work currently performed by Passenger Service employees at the following airports: Denver (DEN), Newark (EWR), Washington Dulles (IAD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), and San Francisco (SFO). In addition, the Company will not contract out to outside vendor(s) the “core” work currently performed by Passenger Service employees at the following call centers: Chicago (CHIRR), Detroit (DTWRR), Honolulu (HNLRR), North Houston (NHCRR), Rapid City (RAPRR), Salt Lake City (SLCRR). The core work of Passenger Service Employees generally consists of processing customer transactions within the Shares (or equivalent) passenger service or cargo reservations system in authorized positions at designated airports, contact centers (including remote reservations agent functions), and other specified support locations, including booking and modifying reservations, ticketing and check-in within an airport facility, execution of over-sales, loyalty program/Mileage Plus transactions, customer service recovery, flight arrival and departure processing, and operation of passenger loading systems/jet bridges.

b. Non-core work currently performed by Passenger Service employees at these airports/locations may be contracted out, provided it does not directly cause a reduction-in-force for employees employed as of the Effective Date of this Agreement at the airport(s)/location(s) where the contracting out occurs.

2. Protections Against Involuntary Furlough

a. The Company may not contract out work to outside vendors at the following airports that would cause an involuntary furlough for employees employed as of the Effective Date of this Agreement at the airport(s) where the contracting out occurs: Austin (AUS), Boston (BOS), Baltimore-Washington (BWI), Cleveland (CLE), Washington National (DCA), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Guam (GUM), Honolulu (HNL), New York Kennedy (JFK), Las Vegas (LAS), New York LaGuardia (LGA), Orlando (MCO), Minneapolis (MSP), New Orleans (MSY), Portland (PDX), Philadelphia (PHL), Phoenix (PHX), Pittsburgh (PIT), San Diego (SAN), Seattle (SEA), Orange County (SNA), and Tampa (TPA).

b. “Involuntary furlough” means displacement to the system or to Locations within the same geographic Point in order to maintain active employment.

3. Enhanced Severance. At any airport/location not specified in Sections 1 or 2 above, the contracting out of work to outside vendor(s) must be a reasonable economically-motivated business decision, …

In other words, the Union and the Company agreed upon a limited number of airports where core services cannot be contracted out. Every other station potentially could be outsourced. As for the significance of these specific airports which are protected, well, they do represent 92% of the total unionized members of United’s IAM District 141 representation. And it seems they negotiated to protect the bulk of in-house positions at the potential risk of seeing the other 8% outsourced. This round means 2,000 jobs at risk.

So long as the company can show that it is “a reasonable economically-motivated decision,” a move which should not be too difficult.

As for how this will impact customers, well, that depends. There are some stations with contract employees who are competent and engaged. And others where that is not the case. Then again, the same could be said for in-house employees in some stations, too.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I don’t blame the corporations here. It’s usually the militant unions that force the corporations to have no choice.

    1. Faulting only one party misses the nuance often at play in the real world. And this sort of deal is negotiated, not delivered unilaterally from one side or the other.

  2. Interesting that CLE is second tier. Looks like this document is dated well before CLE was officially dehubbed.

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