Around 300 United Airlines employees including check-in agents, baggage handlers and essential operations workers at Heathrow Airport have begun to cast their votes in a ballot that will decide whether workers will stage potentially flight grounding strike action.
Britain’s largest union, the Unite union, says United Airlines workers will have its full support if they vote in favour of industrial action in an increasingly bitter dispute over wages and the use of outsourced workers.
United Airlines currently serves Heathrow Airport from eight destinations in the United States with as many as 19 daily flights. The airport is a major ‘outstation’ for United, and the airline relies on its staff at Heathrow to keep its operation moving.
But Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite says the airline has crossed a ‘red line’ by threatening to “tear up a long standing agreement barring the use of outsourced workers”.
According to the union, United Airlines has offered its workers at Heathrow a 5 per cent pay rise for 2022 alongside a top-up payment. An additional 4 per cent pay rise would follow in 2023.
But Graham has slammed the offer as a “pay cut” in real terms with inflation in the UK hitting a 40-year high of 12.3 per cent.
“Our members want fair pay and they won’t allow a race to the bottom,” warned Unite regional officer Clare Keogh. “The workforce feel they have no other choice except to begin an industrial action ballot. It’s time for United Airlines to think again.”
The ballot is set to run until October 11, and if employees vote in favour of strike action, the union would have to provide at least two weeks’ notice before a walkout could get underway.
The union represents a large swathe of workers across the airport and has initiated strike ballots on several occasions this year. So far, workers have removed the threat of strike action after winning big concessions, such as at British Airways where a 13 per cent pay rise was offered to avoid a highly damaging walkout.
As well as the ballot at United Airlines, 50 Heathrow-based aircraft maintenance technicians and crew chiefs at American Airlines are also taking part in a strike ballot in a dispute over an “appalling” pay offer.
A spokesperson for United said the airline “continues to hold talks with Unite the Union, with a view to reaching an agreement”.
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.