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Controversial 'Lottery for Bonus' Backfires for United Airlines

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 07, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

They say all that glitters is not gold -- especially if it's an employee incentive plan.

Yeah, but keep your hands off mine anyway, say employees at United Airlines.

That's kind of what they said after the company planned to take away employee bonuses and reward random winners in a $100,000 lottery instead. What the workers really said was: "No !*$#!&* way!"

Big !*$#!&* Backlash

Last week, United announced it was ending a performance incentive program that gave workers up to $375 for each quarter the company met performance goals. Instead, employees would be eligible for cash prizes and cars in a lottery system.

Only workers with perfect attendance would be eligible. The response was predictable, except perhaps to company management.

"I really thought it was a joke when I first heard of it," said Tom Gimbel, founder of a national staffing and recruiting firm. Scott Kirby, president of United, accepted blame for the misstep.

"Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you," he said. "So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead."

The !*$#!&* Plan

In the performance-based program, about 24,000 flight attendants -- plus pilots and gate workers -- received bonuses for on-time departures, on-time arrivals and other goals.

Under the lottery plan, only 1,361 would receive bonuses and only one would win the $100,000 prize. Other prizes included 10 Mercedes sedans, 20 vacation packages and a variety of cash prizes.

After the announcement, the employees started an online petition against the lottery plan. It quickly drew 1,000 supporters before it was taken down.

"I haven't seen or heard one positive comment from a front line employee regarding this 'new and enhanced' program," one person wrote on an internal forum. "Upper management is so out of touch with the front line, it would be funny if it weren't so sad."

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