United pilots picket board meeting in Houston, demanding better pay and work-life balance

A group of about 300 United employees protested outside in downtown in hopes of better employment contracts at a pivotal time for the industry.

Celeste Schurman / Houston Public Media
Hundreds of pilots pickers outside of the Four Seasons Hotel in Downtown Houston where United Board of Directors were meeting. The pilots say they are demanding industry leading contracts that have better pay and work-life balance.

It was a dreary morning with fog and rain, but that didn't stop hundreds of United Airlines pilots along with flight attendants and United aviation mechanics from marching silently downtown Houston. The United Airlines board of directors were meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel where the group of about 300 gathered in hopes of better employment contracts at a pivotal time for the industry.

Paul Ryder is the secretary for the United Master Executive Council of the Air Line Pilots Association. He says employees want better pay but also a better quality of life.

"For United pilots the priority is our overall value, it's not just compensation but also our work-life balance," Ryder said. "We want the ability to share time with our families as much as we share our time with our passengers.”

Many of the demonstrators were United employees based in Houston, but also many took time to specifically fly in for the day and the demonstration. Ryder said they wanted to bring their message directly to the top decisionmakers.

United Airlines recently announced it plans to invest up to $37.5 million for a biofuel refinery in Northwest Oregon. Ryder said the airline is investing in many things, but their pilots are not one of them.

"That's what we expect for today: for there to be an investment and a decision to move forward with a contract that respects the contribution our pilots have made every day, not only on regular days of business for the airline but during the entire pandemic for United to come out as an industry leader.”

There have been a series of airline employee and pilot demonstrations around the United States with contract negotiations currently on-going with the nation's four biggest airlines. The Airline Pilots Association, representing Delta Airlines’ 14,000-plus aviators, recently came to a tentative deal with the company that would give a 34% pay increase within the four years of the contract. The aviation industry has been dealing with a shortage of airline pilots that has gotten worse since the pandemic.

Ryder says for next time, United employees simply want to be valued.

"We want to be a part of the solutions. Pilots and all United employees make United run and be the industry leading airline that it is. We expect to be a part of that conversation and next time we hope we can avoid this with an on-time contract. But for today we need management to understand clearly that pilots are unified and have the resolve to achieve the right outcome."

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