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Flight attendants to protest at O’Hare over United staffing cuts

A United Airlines jet taxis to a gate at O'Hare International Airport in June 2017. | (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

A United Airlines jet taxis to a gate at O'Hare International Airport in June 2017. | (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Unionized flight attendants will picket Thursday morning at O’Hare Airport to protest looming staffing cuts by United Airlines.

The demonstration is one of 16 across the globe planned by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which accuses the Chicago-based airline of “succumbing to Wall Street pressure” in deciding to eliminate a flight attendant position on most international flights.

“Instead of leading U.S. carriers and distinguishing United Airlines with superior safety and enhanced customer service, the airline is lowering its standards to follow American and Delta,” union president Ken Diaz said in a statement. “When United is making record profits, it should not be cutting back on the people who are on the front lines of safeguarding and serving passengers.”

About 2,000 United flight attendants are based in Chicago, and the union is expecting “a really large showing” at Thursday’s protest, Diaz said. Pilots and ground agents will join the 10 a.m. demonstration outside O’Hare’s upper level departures area between terminals 1 and 2.

Megan McCarthy, United’s managing director of global communications, said the airline doesn’t expect the protests to impact customers.

“We will continue to work closely with the AFA on issues that are important to our flight attendants,” McCarthy said in an email.

Last month, the union released an internal memo from United executive John Slater detailing the airline’s plan to prepare business-class meals on the ground, “eliminating the need” for one flight attendant position on most long-distance international flights.

“Catering on the ground is not a substitute for first responders in the sky,” Diaz said.

The union says they’re also pushing United management to fix computer glitches and eliminate “inhumane” schedules.

United flight attendants will also be picketing and handing out leaflets at 15 other major airports in cities including Los Angeles, Washington D.C., London and Tokyo.