There has been a growing number of people fired at arm's length, whether through text messages or posts on Facebook. But it seems that a recent surprise notification by United of a big downsizing, as it dropped Cleveland as a major hub, came as a real surprise to many who learned of the plans through social media, according to television station WKYC.
There was a letter from United CEO Jeff Smisek dated Saturday, February 1. In it, he said that the hub had been losing money for more than ten years and that the airline would cut average daily departures by about 60 percent.
Although departures to other hubs, key business markets, and a number of leisure destinations in Florida will remain, the big hit comes to regional flights. That is what will prompt cuts of an expected 430 airport operations positions and 40 catering jobs.
Although employees and unions have some sense that layoffs are coming, apparently the United employees in Cleveland who might be affected by the reductions were reportedly taken by surprise, according to WKYC.
The big losers among the employees will largely be ticket agents and ground crew, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. There has been general concern about losing the hub since United and Continental merged in 2010. Given that United already had hubs in Chicago and Newark, N.J., Cleveland was redundant.
"I've been a flight attendant for over 20 years here in Cleveland," Terri LeBlank said. "This is something very new for all of us, and we're all just kind of like, what happened? Nobody prepared us for it. It was just, we got the statement, and here we are."
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As the Plain Dealer further noted, officials in the city had taken recent events as positive signs. Not only had United planned to hold its 2014 annual meeting for shareholders there, but the Cleveland hub had bested other United hubs in morning on-time operations. Furthermore, United's magazine has featured Cleveland in a large supplement in this month's issue.
However, in December, United had told employees that many might be furloughed or reduced to part-time status because of schedule changes.
A local AFL-CIO official told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that almost all of the jobs were union. "These workers will have difficulty finding a new job that is as good paying," said Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor.
United vice-chairman Jim Compton told the Plain Dealer that it was "essential" for the airline to make the change and that the decision was final, with "nothing" the city could do to change the company's mind.
Reductions will begin in June, with an unspecified split between layoffs and transfers. Compton also claimed that the move will stay within the terms of a deal made with the Ohio attorney general's office at the time of the merger. Although the agreement was made to run from 2010 to 2015, if losses at the hub were greater than $40 million in 2011, the airline could begin cutting service in 2013.
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In addition, the cuts are expected to affect many other local businesses, from hotels and restaurants to hospitals. In 2011, Chiquita Brands relocated from Cincinnati to Charlotte, N.C., in part because of greater flying convenience.