United Airlines’ CEO Sent a Surprising Message to All Employees After the ‘Lottery Bonus’ (Here’s the Text)

Has it only been a week? It seems a lot longer  since we first wrote about the United Airlines lottery bonus, and United Airlines employees’ firestorm of a response.

The airline had decided to “press the pause button” on the program after United employees launched petitions, flooded the airline’s internal website with negative comments, and reached out to people like me and my Inc.com colleague, Chris Matyszczyk.

Now there’s a new development, coming from an email that the airline’s CEO sent to all United Airlines employees.

Quick background: United employees have had a bonus program via which they can earn an additional $125 per month if the airline as a whole meets certain performance metrics. Last week, United president Scott Kirby announced the airline would replace that system with a lottery when United met its goals. (h/t to  Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Business Journal who first caught this.)

A few people would win big prizes, and the vast majority, almost 99 percent, would get nothing. United’s employees erupted in anger, and then, just a few days after announcing the surprise change, Kirby said he was holding off on it: “pressing the pause button,” which might quickly become four of the most famous words he’s ever written.

The question for United employees has been what comes next. United CEO Oscar Munoz gave an interview in which he said the proposed bonus changes just had basically been an attempt to “spice up the process.” 

Meantime, however, Munoz was apparently sending an email to United’s 86,000 or so employees about the whole situation, and the message itself has now been revealed. (You can read it here, and it’s also embedded at the bottom of this column.)

The memo reinforces that the lottery bonus is suspended, and says United’s leadership is “going to take some time to reconsider our program.”

Munoz also said he and Kirby “will begin a series of listening systems across the system with you and our leaders in order to get feedback and ideas as we structure a new program …”

And that last part of the memo that is really striking: “as we structure a new program.”

In other words, United isn’t just going to swallow the millions it was reportedly going to save by switching from guaranteed bonuses to a lottery, and go back to the old system. Instead, they will try to craft some kind of third program.

Not a lottery, not what the employees expected and apparently appreciated before. As John Cleese used to say, “now for something completely different.”

“It was a little weird,” a current United Airlines employee told me after receiving Munoz’s email. “It didn’t seem his usual tone to me. And he’s still reinforcing there will be a change to the system that doesn’t need changing.”

One key detail that was included, however: Whatever change ultimately does happen won’t take effect during the first quarter of this year.

This was something that many employees on the internal United Airlines employee website, Flying Together, said they were concerned about–since they’d already put in much of the effort believing they were still operating under the old system.

“That’s reassuring — that United isn’t going to retroactively pull the rug out from under everyone,” wrote Gary Leff on View From the Wing, in reporting on this.

Assuming United met its goals for each of the first three months, its employees will be eligible for up to $1,500–no lottery needed. It will be interesting to see whether United actually did meet its goals however, and whether announcing this wildly unpopular lottery program had any impact.

Here’s Munoz’s short memo, as revealed on Twitter:

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