Now, United pilots are speaking out, saying that following Delta's (DAL) - Get Report example of profit-sharing is a good place to start, even if that impinges on United's previously stated plan to spend $3 billion on a stock buyback.
In a letter sent to pilots late Thursday, the top three officers of the Chicago domicile of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association also blasted former CEO Jeff Smisek and provided a list of specific improvements that could help the airline. These include joint contracts for other work groups, not just pilots.
While Delta recently announced a 14.5% pay increase effective Dec. 1, along with a 1% increase in the 401(k) match following spring pay raises for flight attendants, ramp workers and agents, United "still has a plan to use $3 billion of cash on a stock buyback program.
"This stock buyback does nothing toward reaching the goals you have recently stated you want," the letter said, before referring to Smisek's golden parachute -- nearly $5 million in cash plus other financial compensation that could top $20 million. Smisek stepped down Sept. 8, amid a probe of United's relationship with New York and New Jersey Port Authority Chairman David Samson.
"This stock buyback did nothing other than put money in the pocket of a man who has done nothing for United other than make us the shame of the industry," the letter said.
The carrier announced in July that it would buy back an additional $3 billion worth of its stock by 2017.
The pilots letter listed a half dozen better options for spending the $3 billion, including a new information technology system; new payroll technology; a better onboard product including improved Wi-Fi; joint contracts for flight attendants and for mechanics; and a better effort to comply with the pilot contract and to diffuse conflicts over when pilots should fly, conflicts that have seemed to threaten the standard of captain's authority.
Importantly, the letter said, Munoz should move forward on "breaking down the silos in Willis tower," where United has its headquarters.
"The departmental silos that are allowed to operate with impunity, and independent of each other, must stop," the letter said. "The 'Working Together' guidelines must apply to all employees, including management. A philosophy of respect must permeate every department and must come directly from your office."
"People don't follow what leaders say, they follow what leaders believe," the letter said. "If you truly believe United can regain its rightful place in the industry and provide employees with the resources they need, all wrapped up in a respectful environment, we will follow."
The letter was signed by Council 12 Chairman Eric Popper, Vice Chairman Carlos Rodriguez and Secretary/Treasurer John Briggs.
In a newspaper ad Thursday, Munoz told United passengers, employers and communities that the carrier hasn't lived up to "expectations or to the promise and potential" generated by the merger with Continental, which was announced Oct. 1, 2005. "That's going to change," he said. "We are committed to re-earning your trust."
Last week, in a letter to employees, Munoz made clear that he will seek better employee relations.
"I know that the level of concern over leadership and management is real, and I know the challenges we face affect your lives every day," Munoz wrote. "I've received thousands of e-mails from employees and customers over the past two weeks -- some of you may have received responses from me, penned at all hours of the night. Personally connecting with you and genuinely listening is my top priority.
"My pledge is to work to create and drive a very different employee and customer experience," he added.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.