Employees 'Almost United' in Hating United's New Idea

Company will scrap quarterly bonuses, roll out $100K lottery instead
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2018 8:25 AM CST
United Said It'll Give Out $100K Prize. Workers Despise the Idea
In this Nov. 22, 2017, photo taken through an aircraft passenger window, United Airlines planes are parked at a terminal at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

United Airlines employees were told on Friday that each quarter, one of them would receive a $100,000 prize—and the news reportedly landed with a thud. That's because, as the Chicago Business Journal reports, the announcement came in a memo that also informed employees that quarterly performance bonuses were being done away with. Bloomberg reports that employees used to be eligible for a quarterly bonus of up to $300, meaning up to $1,200 a year. Now, in the quarters that the airline reaches its performance goals, employees who have perfect attendance that quarter will be entered into the lottery. Employees are said to be pretty displeased with the new approach. More on the plan and the fallout:

  • The prizes: The Business Journal saw the memo from United Airlines President Scott Kirby that outlines the "core4 Score Rewards" program. In addition to the big cash prize, smaller cash prizes between $2,000 and $40,000, Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans, or vacations will also be doled out. Inc. reports that under the new system, about 1.6% of employees—Quartz reports United has 86,000—would win something.
  • United's line: A rep's explainer: "We believe that this new program will build excitement and a sense of accomplishment as we continue to set all-time operational records that result in an experience that our customers value."

  • The rank and file: Employees aren't reacting warmly. Bloomberg quotes the president of United’s flight dispatchers union as saying, "we all want to win, but this program doesn't encourage a team approach to winning. No team-oriented reward should be dictated by lottery."
  • More reaction: In an Inc. piece titled, "United Airlines' President Just Showed How Not to Talk to Employees (and Now They're Mad as Hell)," Chris Matyszczyk writes that he's heard from "appalled" flight attendants, and parses the language used in Kirby's memo, for instance, "rewards program." He writes, "What does that remind you of? Why, frequent flyer miles. And what has happened to those miles over recent years? Why, they've become significantly devalued. Might this give you a clue to what's on United's mind here?"
  • More reaction II: Boarding Area reports a Change.org petition airing a long list of grievances was started by United flight attendants and racked up about 1,000 signatures in three hours. The petition was then shut down, with Boarding Area (which reprints it in full) speculating "United pressured the flight attendant to halt" it. Among the listed complaints: "Now, we need to not be sick in order to be eligible for the new awards program. This is disconcerting. Flu season is in full force and we do see colleagues coming to work sick already, when they should be at home in bed."

  • More reaction III: At Inc., Bill Murphy Jr. writes that he read some 500 comments posted to United's internal employee website, and only four were positive ... "and three of those were from the company's vice president for human resources, responding to the negative comments." His take: "United Airlines is living up to its name today—at least in that its employees seem almost universally united in their opposition" to the program.
  • Embarrassed: Some of the comments Murphy Jr. viewed were from workers suggesting they wouldn't be comfortable accepting a prize if they did win. Here's one: "I would be embarrassed and mortified to win this lottery. If it was possible I wouldn't allow my name to be released and I would give my 'winnings' to the Flight Attendant AFA Cause Charity. I win at the expense of tens of thousands of fellow employees? No thanks. —Flight Attendant."
  • Perfect attendance at what cost? Others took issue with the perfect attendance requirement. One comment: "It occurred to me and my wife that this is terribly unfair to single parents. ... Imagine your child coming home sick from school, no fault of your own. You are faced with calling in sick thus losing your 'chance' at a bonus or leaving your child/children home alone to care for themselves. What a terrible situation United has put that person in. —First Officer - B-767/B-757."
  • At stake for United: Writes Lewis Lazare at the Business Journal, "one thing is certain. Kirby can ill-afford to jeopardize the improving on-time performance metrics United has seen over the past year." The airline was No. 1 in the industry for on-time departures in 2017.
(More United Airlines stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.