United suspends change to employee bonus program after backlash

PHOTO: A United Airlines Airbus passenger jet taxis at LaGuardia Airport in New York, in this Sept. 21, 2017 file photo.PlayRobert Alexander/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Airline faces backlash over bonus lottery system proposal

United Airlines on Monday suspended plans to award quarterly bonuses through a new lottery system after backlash from employees over the weekend.

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“Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program,” United Airlines president Scott Kirby said in an internal memo Monday. “But we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you.”

The Chicago-based airline decided last Friday to change their employee bonus program to a tiered, lottery rewards system with prizes that included vacation packages, luxury cars and up to $100,000 in cash. Over 1,000 employees would win these prizes per quarter if certain operational criteria were met, according to the initial announcement sent to employees and obtained by ABC News.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, all eligible United employees could receive up to about $300 per quarter, or $1,500 per year, a United spokesperson said.

PHOTO: Scott Kirby, president of United Continental Holdings Inc., speaks during a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 2017. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Scott Kirby, president of United Continental Holdings Inc., speaks during a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 2017.

“The reason for this change goes to the heart of our strategy: offering meaningful rewards will build excitement and a sense of accomplishment with more bang for the buck,” Kirby said in last Friday’s announcement.

On Saturday, Ken Diaz, president of the United Airlines chapter of the Association of Flight Attendants, said employees did not appreciate the airline taking uniform bonus payments and condensing the pool of awardees into a much smaller, randomly-selected group.

“Being ‘caring’ cannot be choosy,” he said.

United employs nearly 90,000 people. A United spokesperson would not say exactly how many employees complained about the change, but did say that it was a “significant enough number.”

Kirby said Monday that United is now halting these changes to consider employee feedback, though he did not specify when the airline expects to have a decision about their next move.

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