The head of United Airlines' pilots union yesterday accused the airline's executives of trying to break up the carrier by shifting some routes, aircraft and other assets to a new low-cost subsidiary as part of its bankruptcy restructuring.
Paul Whiteford, chairman of United's chapter of the Air Line Pilots Union, also said that since United filed for bankruptcy last month pilot-union leaders have been unable to obtain any details of United's reorganization process. The Chicago-based carrier has "refused to engage in any meaningful negotiations over our future," he said.
The statements come as United's senior executives plan to meet with board members today to lay out the details of their reorganization plan. Whiteford is also one of two union representatives on the board. United executives have indicated that their plan includes creating a low-cost unit to compete with carriers such as Southwest Airlines.
Whiteford said the group, which recently agreed to a 29 percent pay cut, was against dividing up the airline.
"We will not let management break up the strongest asset base and route network in the airline industry," he said. "We will oppose management's break-up plan by every lawful means available to us."
A union spokesman said United was considering a new workforce for the unit, with different work rules for the pilots.
A source close to United confirmed that, but also said the airline planned to integrate the unit into its mainline operation and regional jet operations.
Pete McDonald, vice president of operations for United, said the airline was still in the "design and discussion" phase of planning the low-cost operation.
In a statement, United said its executives had met with employees regarding its reorganization plan. "We have been working collaboratively with our unions, through dozens of meetings and the sharing of thousands of pages of documents, and will continue to do so in order to build a company with a future that can sustain both profitability and jobs."
Major airlines including United, Delta and Continental have tried low-cost subsidiaries in the past to compete with low-cost competition such as Southwest, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways. Yesterday, Delta Air Lines said it was creating a low-cost carrier, Song, to fly from the Northeast to Florida.