United Airlines Chops Work Hours in Virus-Era Labor Showdown

United Airlines Holdings Inc. plans to reduce weekly work hours for about 15,000 airport and baggage employees as the company struggles to reduce labor costs amid a collapse in travel demand.

The decision will change full-time employee schedules to 30 hours a week from 40 hours, United Chief Operations Officer Greg Hart said Friday in a memo to the affected workers. The employees are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAM.

The measure threatens to roil labor relations just as United President Scott Kirby takes over as chief executive officer from Oscar Munoz, who spent much of his tenure courting unions after years of tension. The cut in hours will take effect May 24, four days after Kirby takes the reins with United embroiled in the airline industry’s worst-ever crisis because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This was a very difficult decision and one we didn’t take lightly,” Hart wrote in the memo. United “spent many hours trying to negotiate a consensual, more favorable agreement with your IAM leadership but unfortunately were unable to do so.”

The changes follow similar reductions for thousands of employees by Delta Air Lines Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp., both of which have fewer workers represented by collective bargaining agreements.

— With assistance by Mary Schlangenstein

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