United pilots union chief faces recall vote

By Julie Johnsson, Tribune reporter

Ouster could cause turmoil during ongoing contract talks with carrier

The chairwoman of United Airlines’ pilots union could be ousted Monday in a dispute over the pace and tone of contract negotiations with the carrier’s management, sources told the Tribune.

Captain Wendy Morse, the first woman to head a major U.S. pilots union, faces a recall vote as United’s Air Line Pilots Association leaders gather for a quarterly meeting in Chicago on Monday. Morse, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

A defeat of Morse could signal the start of labor strife that new United CEO Jeff Smisek has sought to avoid as he melds recently merged Continental Airlines and United into the world’s largest carrier and negotiates contracts with every employee group, analysts said.

“I don’t see anything good coming out of this, if the idea is to get a joint collective bargaining agreement out in as short a period as possible,” said William Swelbar, labor expert and research engineer with the MIT International Center for Air Transportation. “Recalling your master chairperson in the middle of negotiations is never good for continuity.”

The mayhem is unusual even for the cutthroat world of airline pilot politics, sources said. Morse survived a recall vote before she took office at the start of 2010. And the leaders of the union’s Washington, D.C., pilots’ council also face a recall vote on April 22 for aiding the effort to dump Morse.

– Kristina Karras

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This blog and its accompanying Twitter account have been established as social media learning tools for the Internal Communications and Employee Engagement class at Columbia College Chicago. Through this blog, we will share our observations about current events, change management and employee communications theory, and the application of social media in shaping employee engagement.
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