About 300 United Airlines staff members, including check-in personnel, baggage handlers, and others involved in critical operations, have started to cast ballots in an election that might result in flight cancellations at Heathrow Airport
The United Airlines employees will have the complete support of the Unite union, the largest union in Britain if they decide to take industrial action in the dispute over wages and outsourcing conflict.
Currently, United Airlines operates up to 19 daily flights to Heathrow Airport from eight American cities. For United, the airport is a significant “outstation,” and the company depends on the employees there to keep things running smoothly.
But Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite says the airline has crossed a ‘red line’ by threatening to “tear up a long-standing agreement barring the use of outsourced workers”.
The union claims that United Airlines has provided a top-up payment and a 5% wage increase for 2022 to its Heathrow employees. In 2023, there would be a second 4% salary increase.
Graham, though, has criticized the offer, calling it a “pay cut” in real terms given that inflation in the UK reached a 40-year high of 12.3%.
“Our members want fair pay and they won’t allow a race to the bottom,” warned Unite regional officer Clare Keogh. “The workforce feels they have no other choice except to begin an industrial action ballot. It’s time for United Airlines to think again.”
Employees will have until October 11 to cast their votes, and if they choose to strike, the union would need to give at least two weeks’ notice before a walkout could begin.
The union, which represents a sizable portion of the airport’s workforce, has called for strikes on many occasions this year. As a result of significant victories, such as at British Airways, where a 13% wage increase was provided to avoid a potentially destructive walkout, workers have so far removed the threat of strike action.
In addition to the ballot at United Airlines, 50 American Airlines crew chiefs and aircraft maintenance technicians based at Heathrow are also participating in a strike ballot over a “appalling” compensation offer.
A spokesperson for United said the airline “continues to hold talks with Unite the Union, with a view to reaching an agreement”.