United, going around union, offers 688 flight attendants jobs at Continental after furlough

United Airlines said it has found a way to keep 688 flight attendants who are set to be furloughed on April 1.

The airline said Wednesday that it will offer them jobs in its Continental unit. The two airlines merged in 2010 and both fly under the United name, but they still have separate flight crews.

The company has said it has too many flight attendants on the United side and not enough on the Continental side. It said the furloughed flight attendants will still have the right to be recalled back to the United side if there are future openings.

The latest move goes around the flight attendants union, which had rejected a similar plan.

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA spokesman Christopher Clarke said the furloughed flight attendants were hired as far back as 2006 but would go to Continental as if they were hired in 2014. Seniority is key for airline flight crews — it governs their layoff protection, and bidding for vacations and the most desirable routes and schedules. He also said that the union would have needed the approval of members to approve a deal allowing them to cross over to Continental.

For many of the United flight attendants, going to Continental would mean a pay cut.

“Allowing flight attendants who wish to work the opportunity to do so is definitely the right thing,” Sam Risoli, the airline’s vice-president for inflight services, wrote in a letter to flight attendants announcing the offer.

Shares of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc. rose $1.26, or 2.6 per cent, to close at $49.17 on Wednesday. It is due to report fourth-quarter results Thursday morning.