United Airlines pilots to picket Friday over ‘antiquated’ scheduling system

United Airlines pilots plan to stage a picket Friday, May 12 at LAX to protest an “antiquated” scheduling system that often forces them to miss birthday parties, graduations and other family events.

The employees, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, say management has “failed to recognize the value pilots bring to the overall success of the airline.”

Pilots say they were there for customers during one of the worst times for travel in recent history and helped United emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed.

Friday’s gathering is part of a 10-city informational picket at which thousands of United pilots will share their frustration with erratic scheduling.

In a statement issued Thursday, United Airlines said labor negotiations are underway, adding that no flights will be disrupted by Friday’s rally.

“We’re continuing to work with the Air Line Pilots Association on the industry-leading deal we have put on the table for our world-class pilots,” the airline said.

Garth Thompson, chairman of the United ALPA Master Executive Council, said thousands of United Pilots will picket Friday, May 12 over the airline’s erratic scheduling. Pilots are seen here picketing an April 19 United Investor Day event in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Air Line Pilots Association)

United pilot Capt. Greg Everhard, based out of LAX, said about 20% of United’s pilots are either reserve pilots who can be called in on two hours notice or are stationed at the airport to be on call for flights when the need arises.

“We’re the largest airline and one of the few that does that,” he said. “It’s based on seniority. But you can be a 25-year pilot, and if you’re new to an airplane it takes a long time to get seniority on that plane.”

Everhard gave a first-hand example of how scheduling can be shifted with little notice.

“I literally got called three hours ago with a change for my schedule in May,” he said. “Now they want me to work on a day where I had something else planned.”

ALPA represents more than 69,000 pilots at 39 U.S. and Canadian airlines, including 16,000 pilots at United. About 200 United pilots are based out of LAX.

Garth Thompson, chairman of the United ALPA Master Executive Council, said thousands of United Pilots are picketing coast-to-coast to deliver a message management can’t ignore: enough is enough.

“We have been stuck with an antiquated scheduling system and a contract nowhere near industry-leading standards,” Thompson said in a statement.

United and other U.S. airlines operate under the Railway Labor Act, which is intended to de-escalate labor situations and pressure airlines to negotiate or accept arbitration so passengers aren’t held hostage to a strike — except as a last resort.

Everhard said it puts pilots at a disadvantage.

“It prevents us from striking until we get approval from the National Labor Relations Board,” he said.

Everhard said United pilots have been negotiating with the airline for five years and have yet to reach an acceptable agreement.

“We’re making progress,” he said. “But it’s much slower than the company promised.”

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