Airline workers pensions crash and burn

The union representing United Airlines’ flight attendants warned of the demise of the nation’s defined-benefit pension system after a bankruptcy judge gave the airline the go-ahead to dump billions of dollars of pension obligations owed to members of four unions, the flight attendants, pilots, and ground crews May 10.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will assume responsibility for the plans, resulting in benefit cuts of 50 percent or more for many retirees after the largest corporate pension default in U.S. history.

The judge overruled the protests of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA that their pension fund was not insolvent and its takeover was unjustified. “Our fight is far from over,” said Greg Davidowitch, Master Executive Council president of the union that represents 21,000 United flight attendants. Davidowitch demanded a change in United’s management. “Either they go or we go,” he stated, explaining that union members have overwhelmingly authorized the use of intermittent strikes that could paralyze the airline.

“This management appears incapable of understanding the obvious; it cannot run a service industry business while waging war on its employees,” he said.

Airline workers are furious about the $4.5 million retirement package of United chief executive Glenn Tilton, which was protected from the bankruptcy proceedings.