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United Airlines workers protest possible layoffs after company receives billions in Covid aid

An estimated 900 United catering workers and their supporters staged protests against the airline on Wednesday.

The protests outside airports in Denver, Houston, Honolulu and Newark, New Jersey, came nearly three months after United’s vice president of customer strategy and innovation, Mandeep Grewal, sent a letter to the catering staff advising them that the airline “was exploring the option of bringing in a third party and managing our current in-house kitchen operations.”

The letter, which was provided to CNN Business by union UNITE HERE, said United would likely evaluate potential suppliers for “several months” until the third quarter of 2021.

“I know this may be of concern to those with roles within our kitchens and menu design teams and I want to assure you that the well-being of our employees and the impact on our customers will all be taken into account. consideration, “Grewal wrote. “We will be looking at a variety of vendors, including those we work with today,” she added.

Leaders of UNITE HERE – North America The airport and hospitality workers union that has represented United’s foodservice workers since 2019 – has contacted members of Congress after receiving the letter.
Women of Congress Sylvia R. Garcia and Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter to United CEO Scott Kirby on Wednesday criticizing the company for taking federal money to pay employees during the worst of the pandemic to consider to fire them a year later. Congress has granted United $ 7.7 billion in Covid relief since the start of the pandemic, according to documents filed by the airline with the SEC.

“For United to consider outsourcing thousands of jobs when the industry is already forecasting a financial recovery is in bad faith,” lawmakers wrote in the letter provided by UNITE HERE.

Convention attendees also sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, according to UNITE HERE, urging her to consider a “clawback” of pandemic relief funds sent to United if the company ultimately sacks its catering staff.

“In the CARES Act, Congress gave the Secretary of the Treasury the discretion to determine the appropriate ‘terms and conditions’ of payroll assistance,” the women of Congress wrote in their letter to Yellen. “To implement this program as Congress intended, we urge you to exercise your discretion.”

United’s latest 10-K annual report filed on March 1 found that the airline had agreed to pay its CFO Gerry Laderman, Chairman Brett J. Hart and CEO Kirby an estimated total of $ 7.5 million. in long-term conditional cash bonuses designed to prevent executives from leaving the company. United points out that its CEO and chairman did not receive a salary for most of 2020 due to the company’s pandemic concerns.

“Long-term cash rewards, which won’t be paid until at least before 2024, don’t have a single penny from the CARES Act,” a United spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

But United workers still disagree that airline executives are getting bonuses while considering sacking some or all of the company’s catering workers. UNITE HERE said people of color, women and immigrants make up more than half of its membership.

“United has made a move that could put thousands of workers on the streets,” said Willy Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of Local 23 UNITE HERE in Houston.

United Airlines workers protest possible layoffs after company receives billions in Covid aid

Fernando Herrera was one of some 20 United catering workers who demonstrated outside the terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday. The Colombian immigrant and married father-of-one, who said he has been with United for 20 years, said he was tired of the company keeping workers in the dark about their future after weeks without an update .

“United haven’t really informed us of anything,” Herrera said, speaking through a Spanish translator. “It is an injustice. It is not fair that United [after] get money from the government, consider laying people off. That’s all my colleagues and I think about. “

A United spokesperson pointed out that the company had not made a decision on its catering services.

“Given the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on our business, United continues to explore ways to do things differently and become more efficient wherever we can,” the company said. “We regularly explore partnerships with third parties that have the potential to make us more efficient and improve the experience for our customers.”

United Transportation Coordinator Jenkins Kolongbo, 37, a Liberian immigrant who demonstrated outside Newark International Airport on Wednesday, said he believes the company is taking advantage of its staff not finalizing their deal union. UNITE HERE said restaurant workers have been working without a contract for at least two years.

“The most important thing is the safety of our work,” Kolongbo said. “We don’t know if tomorrow we will be able to have a job. The people who have been here for 15-20 years, they don’t know.”


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