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Wary of New Partnership With Emirates, United Airlines Pilots and Flight Attendants Slam Labor Practices in the UAE

Wary of New Partnership With Emirates, United Airlines Pilots and Flight Attendants Slam Labor Practices in the UAE

Labor leaders representing pilots, flight attendants, engineers and other ground workers at United Airlines came together on Wednesday to remind chief executive Scott Kirby that the airline has spent years criticizing the Dubai-based airline and opposing its expansion on U.S. soil.

The joint letter from the union leaders is a clear indication that United’s own employees aren’t convinced that the carrier’s decision to strike a partnership deal with Emirates will be good for them in the long run.

On Wednesday, Kirby hosted Emirates’ president, Sir Tim Clark, at an event held in a United hangar at Dulles to announce a codeshare and interline agreement between the two airlines. A move that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

The deal also entails some frequent flyer program benefits, and United is set to return to Dubai for the first time since 2016 with a daily service from Newark.

“After years of highlighting the unfair business practices of state-owned enterprises (SOE) such as Emirates Airlines and other Middle East carriers, United’s announcement of a new codeshare agreement demands scrutiny,” the letter signed by Mike Hamilton, master chair of the United pilots union slammed.

The other signatories of the letter were Ken Diaz, president of United’s flight attendant union, Richard Johnson, general vice president for the United IAM, Craig Symons, president of the United division of PAFCA and Joe Ferreira, director of the airline division at the IBT.

“To protect the jobs of U.S. 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 continued.

United once argued that Emirates benefited from “massive government subsidies” that skewed the market and put the airline at an unfair advantage. As a result, the airline claimed U.S. jobs were at risk.

But United and a coalition of other airlines quietly dropped opposition to the Persian Gulf carriers when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

Nonetheless, United’s labor leaders say “the fact remains that there are currently no independent labor unions in the United Arab Emirates. This has led to a systemic, unacceptable assault on airline workers’ rights with alarming accounts of unfair labor practices and intimidation of employers”.

The open letter does not accuse Emirates of any malpractice, but the authors say they will be “watching closely to ensure our scope provisions are rigorously followed and demand the highest labor standards are adhered to across all partnerships”.

United will make its return to Dubai in March 2023 but a codeshare and interline agreement will begin in November, and further announcements are expected over the coming months.

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