Contractual grievance requested
Recently a group of flight attendants sent a formal request to the Master Executive Council (MEC) seeking to file a contractual grievance. This is concerning the Company’s unintentional overpayment of the TA2 signing bonus to approximately 200 flight attendants. The request was filed in a timely manner but there seemed to be some confusion regarding the actual process.
, so here is a quick reminder. Individual flight attendants can file disciplinary grievances. Contractual grievances, however, may only be filed by AFA. It may be done on a domicile basis for individual flight attendants or for issues affecting a specific base. However, we typically file a grievance on the MEC level because the contract covers all flight attendants even when the particular incident affects only one flight attendant. Individual flight attendants or groups of flight attendants do not have the legal or contractual right to do so. [Note: Disregard struck text as this information is in error. See Important Correction to “Payroll Error Results in a Signing Bonus of $3000 for Steps 15 and 16” for more information.]
Now the MEC would like to explain our decision whether or not to file the grievance as requested and to make sure you understand the dispute, the context in which it arose and our legal analysis.
Management committed to pay every flight attendant a signing bonus upon ratification of TA2. Probationary flight attendants would receive $500 upon completion of probation; flight attendants who had completed probation and up to 17 years of “occupational service” (i.e. as an Alaska Airlines flight attendant) would receive $2,000; and flight attendants who had completed 17 or more years of occupational service would receive $3,000.
Under our old contract, the top of scale was Step 17 at the completion of 17 years of occupational service. TA2 reduced the top of scale to the completion of fifteen years of occupational service (Step 15). When payroll began processing the signing bonuses, they realized some flight attendants who were at Step 15 or 16 actually had at least seventeen years of occupational service and should therefore receive the $3,000. (This unusual situation arose because these flight attendants were not credited with the 480 TFP per year required under the old contract to advance to the next pay step. TA2 eliminated that requirement.)
In attempting to fix that problem, payroll inadvertently paid an additional $1000 signing bonus to not only the “480 hold-up” flight attendants but also to approximately 200 flight attendants, all of those at Step 15 and 16. When management discovered the error, they contacted AFA—on Christmas Eve. AFA fully expected management to initiate an overpayment correction. However, management was concerned that not only was it Christmas Eve but the 200 or so flight attendants might have already spent the money and could have believed that they were entitled to it.
In discussing the issue further, AFA and management came to the conclusion that letting these flight attendants keep the money was consistent with earlier discussions between the MEC and management in regards to the signing bonus. You see, at one point AFA sought to have the $3000 signing bonus paid to all new top of scale flight attendants (i.e. Step 15 and above), but we were unsuccessful in our request. After some consideration, AFA and management orally agreed the Company would not seek to recover the additional $1,000 from these approximately 200 flight attendants on a non-precedential basis.
Subsequent to that conversation, Vice President of Inflight Services Andy Schneider sent two different emails to the approximately 200 affected flight attendants. Andy informed them they could keep the $1000 overpayment/signing bonus. The details of those emails eventually found their way to social media and other public forums. This prompted concerns from some of the other flight attendants, who learned of it second-hand and out of context, which has led to the situation we face today.
After consulting with both AFA Legal and our Collective Bargaining departments, the MEC is disinclined to file a contractual grievance over this issue. Here is why:
- TA2 clearly states that only flight attendants with 17 or more years of service will receive a $3,000 signing bonus. If we filed a grievance, management would grant it. But instead of awarding every other flight attendant an additional $1,000, management would likely then attempt to take the extra $1,000 back from the 200 affected flight attendants. We could continue the case to arbitration, but we believe that the arbitrator would enforce the Contract and side with management. Arbitrators routinely enforce clear and unambiguous language, and the law allows employers to recoup money erroneously paid to employees.
- Additionally, AFA’s oral agreement to allow the 200 flight attendants to keep the $1,000 is binding. We cannot legitimately file a grievance to rescind our own agreement. We would likely lose that case, along with our integrity. When management makes an agreement, we expect them to uphold it. In turn, they can and should expect the same from us.
- This is a tough case for the union because it necessarily pits members against members, with the leadership in the middle. We tried to do the right thing by the 200 flight attendants. Whether that was the right decision has certainly proved to be subject to debate. However, that decision was made, and we are standing by it.
The MEC recognizes timely communication was lacking and a full explanation of the circumstances would have been desirable. The MEC has learned a valuable lesson here and we will redouble our efforts to maintain open and forthright communications. If you have any additional questions or concerns, contact your Local Executive Council (LEC) president.
Your MEC—Jeffrey Peterson, Brian Palmer, Yvette Gesch, Becky Strachan, Laura Masserant, Cathy Gwynn, Sandra Morrow and Stephen Couckuyt