Forgive United Airlines’ unions for being puzzled that United and Emirates are now friends, after years of being enemies.
On Tuesday the two carriers announced a partnership agreement that includes code sharing and a new United flight to Emirates’ Dubai hub. “There was a time – and we all know this – that it was difficult,” said Emirates President Tim Clark at a Dulles Airport media event. The announcement followed the June announcement of an expanded code share agreement between American Airlines and Qatar Airways.
“For years, we’ve seen the Middle East three airlines do nothing but undermine US aviation interests, so you can understand we would be a little suspicious,” said Craig Symons, president of the United chapter of the Professional Airline Flight Controllers Association.
Both United CEO Scott Kirby and former CEO Oscar Munoz “actively recruited our help in opposing the Mideast Three and their subsidies,” Symons said. “They were heavily invested in recruiting our opposition. Then to turn around and go ‘Hey, if you can’t beat them join them…
“You can understand why we would be wary of why we all of a sudden changed sides,” he said. “If it turns out to be a successful arrangement that benefits passengers and workers on both sides, that’s great. but we have concerns after we changed teams so quickly. ” PAFCA represents United’s 400 dispatchers.
Symons was among the five United union presidents who signed a letter questioning the new partnership, entitled: “United – Emirates Codeshare: Labor is Watching.”
“After years of highlighting the unfair business practices of state-owned enterprises such as Emirates Airlines and other Middle East carriers, United’s announcement of a new codeshare agreement demands scrutiny,” the letter said.
“Since the beginning of their existence, Emirates Airlines has been sustained by massive government subsidies, unrelated to the global pandemic, used to expand far beyond what market forces could ever support,” it said. “Their growth, including the Dubai-Athens-Newark service and Milan service, was only possible because of the enormous Emirati funding the airline received. These subsidies put US airlines at a tremendous economic disadvantage and threaten US airline workers’ jobs. ”
The letter noted that while the US and the United Arab Emirates signed a 2018 agreement regarding these issues, the UAE has no independent labor unions, which “has led to a systemic, unacceptable assault on airline workers’ rights, with alarming accounts of unfair labor practices and intimidation by employers.
“To protect the jobs of US airline workers, there must be continued financial transparency and improved labor standards that ensure fairness is maintained in all Open Skies and codeshare agreements,” the letter said.
Besides Symonds, signatories included leaders of the United chapters of the Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Flight Attendants, the International Association of Machinists, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, representing pilots, flight attendants, fleet service agents, reservations agents and mechanics .
In an additional statement, Mike Hamilton, chair of the United ALPA chapter, said, “Protecting the long-term career security of our members is paramount, and we will closely watch how this is implemented.”
During much of the second half of the last decade, the big three US carriers battled the big three Mideast carriers, including Qatar Airways and Etihad, over the billions in subsidies they received from their governments while taking advantage of Open Skies agreements to fly to their hubs from the US carriers’ hubs. The subsidies totaled around $ 50 billion, according to a report by a lobbying group that represented American, Delta and United.
During that time, Kirby said of the Mideast three, “That’s evidence that they are not focused on profitability. They are just focused on flying the airplane somewhere and having the government subsidize it. ”
The conflict was largely resolved with the 2018 deals allowing US carriers to review accounting by Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar, while the airlines agreed not to add additional direct flights to the US from Europe or other third country destinations.
Subsequently, the pandemic brought a halt to most international travel. In May 2020, American and Qatar restored their codeshare. In July 2021, American Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja said Qatar has “very quickly become our largest long-haul codeshare partner,” during an earnings call. In June 2022, the carriers expanded their codeshare, saying American customers could book travel on Qatar Airways flights via Doha to and from 16 countries in Africa and Asia. American also launched New York-Doha service.
In July 2021, AFA President Sara Nelson said things changed after Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker agreed to “play by the rules [because] nothing else worked.
“I still have a beef with their being a state-owned airline and with the way they treat workers, but he has decided to play by the rules,” she said in an interview. “When you play by the rules you get to play with everyone in the play yard.”