(Update: United Airlines says it's "hitting the pause button" on this program.)

United Airlines is living up to its name today--at least in that its employees seem almost universally united in their opposition to the airline's new "lottery bonus" program.

As reported originally by Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Business Journal, and as I wrote early Saturday, United rolled out a brand-new employee bonus program Friday via an email from company president Scott Kirby, revealing that the company would replace its current bonus program with a lottery system.

To put it lightly, United pilots, flight attendants, and other employees are up in arms. A number of employees reached out to me directly, and to my colleague Chris Matyszczyk, who pointed out just how badly botched the rollout was.

There are a few other new developments today, including a report that United required a flight attendant to remove a public Change.org petition against the policy. Meantime, a current United employee showed me hundreds of employee comments responding to the original "lottery bonus" announcement from Kirby.

These were posted on the internal United Airlines employee website, Flying Together. Of roughly 500 comments I read, four were positive (and three of those were from the company's vice president for human resources, responding to the negative comments).

The tone ranged from polite disagreement to apoplectic anger. To understand the context, it helps to know:

1. Under the old bonus program, employees could receive a maximum total of $125 per month--paid on a quarterly basis, so $1,500 per year maximum--if United met its goals on three key metrics.

2. The new program replaces that system with a lottery. If United meets its goals, all employees would have a chance to win prizes, including Mercedes automobiles and cash up to $100,000. About 1.6 percent of employees would win something.

3. The new "lottery bonus" program adds another requirement, which is that to be eligible for the lottery, employees would have to have perfect attendance during the time period. Employees took that to mean no sick days.

4. The program is officially called "Core4 Score Rewards," in reference to Kirby's initiative to build United's reputation as "the most caring airline in a highly-competitive industry." 

"I'm still proud to work for United. I like the company," said the employee who provided me with access to the comments you'll see below. "I think we're doing a great job. The major thing isn't so much the money. It's the principle."

Here's a sampling of employee comments from Flying Together. I'm identifying the posters by their job positions only:

1. "This is insulting and a poor idea, to put it mildly." --First Officer - B-767/B-757

2. "I would be embarrassed and mortified to win this lottery. If it was possible I wouldn't allow my name to be released and I would give my 'winnings' to the Flight Attendant AFA Cause Charity. I win at the expense of tens of thousands of fellow employees? No thanks." --Flight Attendant

3. "Awful idea. [Current] bonus program has everyone pulling in the same direction with a common goal. This is scratching a lottery ticket..." --Captain - B-737

4. "It occurred to me and my wife that this is terribly unfair to single parents. ... Imagine your child coming home sick from school, no fault of your own. You are faced with calling in sick thus losing your 'chance' at a bonus or leaving your child/children home alone to care for themselves. What a terrible situation United has put that person in." --First Officer - B-767/B-757

5. "I can't imagine driving the Mercedes into the employee lot while everyone around me that worked just as hard, or harder got nothing. I would feel like such a jerk. It's quite telling about the people who thought this up. I bet they would be gloating happily if they won." --Flight Attendant - Domestic

6. "Respectfully.... there are many employees who depend on those bonuses and work their butts off to achieve them. Turning it to a lottery disincentivizes the hard work because most wont see a penny." --Captain - B-737

7. "Not cool." --Flight Attendant

8. "It felt like we had just gotten to a place where employee morale was up. It took so many years for people to feel good about what was happening. In one fell swoop, it is crushed again. ... Please rethink this decision." --Customer Service Representative

9. "If I wanted to play in a lottery, I would just go my local 7/11. I recommend United management reconsider this morale killing program." --Captain - A-320

10. "We were finally all pulling from the same end of the rope. ... Let's fix this now and get back on track." --Captain - B-737

11. "Sorry, divisive and wrong!!"--Flight Attendant - Domestic

12. "This is an insult to every single employee at UAL. Spin it however you want, but you're still taking money out of our pockets and putting it into yours, Scott Kirby. Shame on you. Shame on you." --Captain - B-737

13. "When I win the $100,000 drawing.....I am going to hire some young kid to write my 84,000 teammates each a check for $1.19 and share the reward with those who helped ME win this reward.....on YOUR hard work!" --First Officer - B-777

14. "Way to "Unite".... Disappointing to say the least...." --First Officer - B-767/B-757

15. "Guess next time I get the flu I'll still drag myself to work, because the company only rewards all our hard work to make this company a success if we never call in sick. I'll say sorry now to all the other employees I infect. ... This is a sad day at United." --Flight Attendant - Domestic

16. "This sounds like a game show with cash prizes and lets see who gets the spin of the wheel. This doesn't sound like a plan that even attempts to show value, respect and appreciation for the work of its employees." --Flight Attendant - Domestic

17. "WOW! Looks like We are United against this ill thought out incentive program. Let's see if We will be listened to. I would love to see 80,000 comments against this bad idea. I am also proud of all the front line employees who have spoken their minds on this issue." --First Officer - B-777

Published on: Mar 4, 2018
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