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With Flight-Attendant Battle, United-Continental Merger Looks Far From Finished

United flight attendants arrive at O'Hare International Airport from Houston May 20, 2013 in Chicago
United flight attendants arrive at O'Hare International Airport from Houston May 20, 2013 in ChicagoPhotograph by Scott Olson/Getty Images

United and Continental Airlines closed their merger in October 2010. More than three years later, several of the carrier’s unionized work groups operate much as they did before the deal, with a battle over flight-attendant furloughs highlighting the difficulties the merged company has had in harmonizing contracts to cover tens of thousands of union employees.

United said Wednesday that it plans to furlough 685 flight attendants who did not accept a voluntary proposal last fall, letting those affected transfer to the airline’s Continental unit on April 1. Flight attendants who opt to transfer would retain their seniority for pay purposes but not for bidding on schedules, trips, or vacation time. About 1,100 flight attendants have signed on to the voluntary furlough program for periods of 12 months to 18 months without pay but with medical coverage. “United leadership is committed to doing the right thing for our employees, and allowing flight attendants who wish to work the opportunity to do so is definitely the right thing,” Sam Risoli, senior vice president for in-flight services, wrote in a Jan. 22 memo to flight attendants.