Neutralized A Union Drive

CASE STUDY:   Neutralized A Union Drive


The Challenge:

A major airline was in trouble with its Flight Attendants. Seeking to strengthen the leadership component for a key flight crew position, the airline administered psychological tests intended to measure leadership aptitude for their OnBoard Leaders (OBL). OBLs are responsible for the coordination and direction of cabin personnel for each flight. The ultimate result of these evaluations was that many long-term, well-respected OBLs were removed from their position and replaced by those who had outscored them on the evaluation.
The “airwaves” rippled with indignation and anger as news of the demotions spread quickly across the company’s 22,000 Flight Attendants. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) seized the opportunity to strengthen their union drive. The AFA recognized what the company did not:

“The flight attendants who were bounced from the OBL jobs were strong leaders – their anger drove them to champion the call to organize. We came to rely on them as very effective union organizers.” – AFA Union Organizer

This airline had long maintained the atmosphere of a big family and took pride in the fact that flight attendants had always rejected union campaigns. The management team in place had little experience with the kind of uproar caused by the re-assignments. Slots for the position were going unfilled – causing scheduling nightmares. Cabin service was deteriorating. The AFA union organizers were mounting a strong and sophisticated campaign – and it looked as if a vote in favor of a union would be inevitable.

The Solution:

The newly hired Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service asked us for help. We designed a process that engaged the entire organization in an overhaul of the OnBoard Leader program. We held an OBL Solution at a local hotel and invited 50 key players – including many of the employees who felt slighted. Flight attendants, pilots, HR experts, financial analysts, schedulers, gate agents and managers met for over 4 days to hammer a solution. Among their Recommendations:

  • Implemented a new OBL recruitment and selection process
  • Developed training and support mechanisms to improve the OnBoard Leader’s ability to perform safety, service and leadership responsibilities with ease and confidence.
  • Upgraded the position’s role and responsibilities to showcase the OBL as someone who is respected and admired for his/her knowledge, leadership and teamwork

Because they were actively engaged in developing recommendations, OnBoard Leaders and their peers were invested in making the process work. They led the drive to implement the changes and accomplished the majority within three months.

The Results:

  • Demand for the position exceeded slots
  • In-Flight Service boarding delays declined
  • Job satisfaction ratings improved
  • Training effectiveness ratings climbed
  • Customer Satisfaction sores rose
  • Compliments from co-workers and passengers increased
  • All was accomplished without an increase in pay or benefits

The resulting OBL program diffused a strong union campaign issue – the union effort ultimately failed.

“Clearly, the consulting Kathryn Rafter did with the OBL program helped neutralized the Flight Attendants’ anger level on this particular issue – that work more than likely hurt our efforts to target those votes we needed (to organize).”  –  AFA Union Organizer