Black Pilots Challenge Racism At United Airlines

Dr. Cornel West & Black United Pilots Hold Media Day To Combat Racism At United Airlines

Black Airline Pilots Join With Dr. Cornel West To Sue United Airlines
Pilot Woody Fountain, Dr. Cornel West and attorney J. Conor Corcoran at United We Stand Media Day in Washington, D.C.

This afternoon, Dr. Cornel West led a press conference on behalf of the United We Stand Coalition For Diversity at Washington D.C.’s National Press Club. In the continuing fight against racism and injustice in this country, a group of black United Airlines pilots have stepped up to pressure the American government to investigate the “hiring, promoting, training, discipline, diversity and equal employment practices” of United Airlines. According to the federal complaint (which you can read here) — a jury trial is being demanded by the coalition who are alleging that race discrimination, retaliation and civil rights conspiracy are just the few ways United Airlines have held these pilots down. In addition to these claims, the black pilots who have numerous years of flying and military experience, have been refused by United Airlines to be placed in management positions directly because they are persons of color.

Held down by whom, you might ask? Is it a conspiracy? In fact, in interview with Okayplayer J. Conor Corcoran, one of the lawyers representing the pilots, spoke of an illuminati-esque brain trust of white executives known as “The Vault” who locked black pilots out of management positions through nepotism and–in some cases–shocking tactics of racial intimidation.

“Our clients are of the caliber where one [pilot] was actually shot down [while flying a plane] during the Vietnam War,” Conor explained by phone. “Eldridge Johnson then came back after his service was done, did a second tour [of duty] and comes home as one of the most accomplished pilots in U.S. history. He ended up being in charge of the National Guard in Illinois. He worked for United [Airlines] for 20 years and they refused to give him any managerial positions with the company.”

Johnson is typical of the pilots speaking out against systemic racial discrimination at United educated, highly intelligent, exceptional leaders with extensive flying experience, both military and civilian.  “The Vault” apparently denied pilots of color from advancement into higher ranks within the company, instead retaining promotional power within a whites-only network of Chief Pilots in a bid to keep the the jobs for themselves in the face of previous rulings against United, specifically the consent decree which was designed to ended discriminatory hiring practices in the 1990s.

The goal of today’s press conference at D.C.’s National Press Club is to galvanize the American public behind supporting these 18 courageous black pilots and to request the U.S. Congress and the Department of Justice to investigate United Airlines for both civil and criminal wrongdoing.

With cases under litigation in places such as San Francisco, Houston, Newark and the eastern district of Virginia — this is a coast-to-coast issue of immense importance. These pilots have placed themselves at risk, as United Airlines has already threatened to take away their jobs if they move forward with litigation. “United Airlines had been previously investigated by Congress in the ’70s and ’80s,” Mr. Corcoran told us in our exclusive interview. “They were forced under a consent decree to hire black pilots. That consent decree expired in the late ’90s.”  The executive leadership of United Airlines has since then done absolutely nothing to address the real concerns of racial discrimination, pay equity and upward mobility for black pilots at United Airlines in over two decades. “They have not been paying attention to the qualifications of its own employee staff. These guys are being passed over for management jobs, instead being given to under-qualified white pilots,” Corcoran said.

Through the course of our conversation, Corcoran revealed that United Airlines has hired someone of color in a high-ranking role. Brett Hart was hired by United Airlines as “African American General Counsel” in 2010, which propelled him forward to eventually become acting CEO in 2016 while Oscar Munoz was ill during a leave of absence. In the six years of Hart’s advancement, how much has he looked out for pilots of color to follow his lead? “He has turned out to be a company man through-and-through. He is not looking out for the interest of all United employees to have equal opportunities for every one, including these African American pilots,” Corcoran told us. Even though, as of this reporting, United Airlines has not revealed any financial information — according to Corcoran the difference in how much black pilots make versus how much they could make in an upper management / executive position is roughly an additional $50k / year.

United Airlines’ response to the exposure of racist practices, sadly, has been to directly frighten or scare off its black pilots from speaking out, singling out in particular those who won settlements in racial discrimination cases back in 2011 by circulating the unofficial word that black pilots who made claims “would never receive promotions.”

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