By Alana Wise
CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Continental Holdings Inc <UAL.N> executives faced disgruntled company and contracted employees at its annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday as the airline tried to repair its public image damaged by recent customer relations fiascos.
Addressing the April 9 incident in which a paying passenger was dragged from a parked plane to make room for airline crew, Chief Executive Oscar Munoz told stockholders the incident had “set us back a little bit,” but vowed the company would redouble efforts to improve customer service.
Viral videos of Dr. David Dao being dragged down the aisle of a United jet and Munoz’s handling of the incident touched off a public outcry, prompted calls from congressmen for new industry regulation, and led United’s board of directors to reverse an agreement to make Munoz chairman in 2018.
United agreed to pay Dao, who had been traveling from Chicago to Louisville when he was dragged off the plane last month, an undisclosed amount of money to head off a lawsuit on the matter.
In late April, a giant rabbit named Simon was found dead after a United flight, prompting its owners to demand that the airline pay damages, order an outside probe and re-evaluate how it handles animals.
In March, a passenger set off a tweet storm accusing United of “policing women’s clothing” after she saw two teenage girls in leggings stopped from boarding a flight.
While some attendees praised Munoz’s acknowledgement of the Dao incident, several more expressed disappointment at what they said were unfair wages paid by vendors United had contracted out for some of its services.
One employee, a dishwasher for a Chicago area contractor, said he was making 25 cents less than the city’s minimum wage. Another said that after more than three years working for a United vendor, his pay increases had dried up.
Munoz said it was up to the vendors to address compensation concerns.
“Those are not my companies. I cannot compel them (to change their pay practices),” Munoz said. In instances of safety concerns, however, “that’s an absolute showstopper,” he said.
Protesters demanding higher wages for contract employees briefly locked arms and sat on a road near the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago as the meeting was being held inside.
Thirty people were arrested and cited for obstructing the roadway, the Chicago Police Department said in a statement.
Several miles away in a Chicago suburb, workers for fast-food company McDonald’s Corp <MCD.N> also marched to demand wage increases as part of the nationwide “Fight for 15” campaign.
(Reporting by Alana Wise; Additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Richard Chang)