United Airlines has made moves this week on food services to ramp up summer demand as the carrier transitions to outsourced catering for long-haul flights, impacting over 2,000 jobs.
The Chicago-based airline has selected three suppliers to oversee the menu and operations of the five kitchens within United’s company.
The move follows an extensive six-month review, which began in January, which sought to discuss whether changing catering was the right step.
The three outsourced companies include French company NewRest, which will operate in Houston; Swiss company Gate Gourmet in Newark, Denver and Honolulu; and Sky Café in Cleveland.
United expects to begin the transition in October, with operations to commence in November after federal funding is expired, which prohibited the company to induce pay cuts.
The airline broke news to staff in a memo, seen by Reuters, saying 2,036 kitchen workers would be offered jobs with the suppliers, and 70 per cent of staff would maintain union representation.
“We wanted to proceed in a way that allowed us to protect the vast majority of jobs for our United catering team members, and invest in solutions that significantly improve our customers’ onboard experience,” United’s VP of customer innovation and strategy and catering, Mandeep Grewal, told staff in the memo.
According to D. Taylor, president of the UniteHere union representing the airline’s hospitality workers, over a quarter of the affected staff – 607 in total – are from Houston.
“United Airlines catering workers in Houston fought hard to win a union. Now, United’s decision to subcontract these jobs risks the workers’ continued union representation,” Taylor said.
“As NewRest comes to Houston and takes over this important business at the airport, United and Newest must respect workers’ choice to organise a union and commit not to engage in a union busting campaign.”
Despite the opposition, United said in a statement the move would “prioritise our current employees and advance our kitchen capabilities to improve United customer experience”.
The carrier is the last in the US to operate its own kitchen, a spokesperson from United said.
United has been on the move to increase passenger demand after the pandemic slump and as summer travel in the US ramps up.
This week, the carrier also announced a new option for passengers to pre-order food and beverages online up to five days before the flight.
United claims it is the “first and only” carrier to introduce this option to economy flyers, as previously only premium customers had this option.