A flight attendant union has filed a lawsuit against United Airlines claiming the carrier has been “unlawfully interrogating” flight attendants at its Washington DC crew base. The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court of Colombia on Tuesday, seeks an injunction against United which would stop the airline “coercing” information about union activity from flight attendants.
While United said it can’t comment on the specifics of the case, a spokesperson said the airline won’t “tolerate retaliation against employees by anyone – including union representatives”.
The case was brought after two veteran United flight attendants who are union reps for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) were put under investigation by the airline and threatened with disciplinary action because they questioned their colleagues about a complaint made by a coworker.
The union says Jill Collins and Donna Matallana, who both joined United back in 1989, were acting lawfully when they sought information from other flight attendants about the complaint. United has demanded to know who and what they asked and have threatened “repirsals” if the two longserving flight attendants don’t cooperate.
The incident started in September 2020 when a United flight attendant made a complaint against two coworkers alleging they had weren’t following company policies. United started an investigation and put the two flight attendants under investigation.
Jill Collins and Donna Matallana were brought in by the union to represent the flight attendants. As part of their role, they spoke with other flight attendants about the case and collected witness statements as part of the defence.
The lawsuit claims United “interrogated” three flight attendants to find out what went on in those meetings. The airline now claims the way the two reps carried out their own investigation could make them subject to disciplinary action.
The Association of Flight Attendants has accused United of “attempting to illegally solicit the union’s defence strategy and confidential and protected union-member communication” which would be a violation of the Railway Labor Act.
On Tuesday, United served letters of investigation on Jill Collins and Donna Matallana which was almost immediately followed by AFA’s lawyers filing the lawsuit in district court. The disciplinary hearings are scheduled for June 24 and June 25 unless AFA is able to obtain an injunction beforehand.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for United told us: “While we can’t comment on the specifics of this ongoing matter, let us be clear that United will not tolerate retaliation against employees by anyone – including union representatives – for making a good faith report of a safety violation.”
“We respect the right of AFA, and all unions, to advocate for employees, which is why we would expect them to join us in investigating claims of retaliation raised by one of their members.”
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Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.