United Airlines pilots elected a new leader on Tuesday, just as they are negotiating a joint contract with their co-workers at Continental.
Pilots voted in Jay Heppner as chairman of the Master Executive Council at the United branch of the Air Line Pilots Association.
He replaces Wendy Morse, who was elected just two years ago and was seen as a moderate after years during which the union took a hard line in negotiations with the company. Her term expires in January, and she did not run for re-election.
Heppner has worked for United for 26 years. He is a Boeing 777 captain based in San Francisco and is chairman of the union's negotiating committee.
United and Continental merged a year ago. Both are run by United Continental Holdings Inc., which is combining them into a single airline. United and Continental pilots are in active negotiations for a new contract to cover the combined airline.
"This election is about our new contract," Heppner said in a written statement. "There are assuredly other issues that need to be resolved in parallel, but none so critical" as a joint contract.
"We will continue to work with ALPA on a contract that is fair to our employees and the company," airline spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said.
Shares of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings rose 24 cents to close at $20.52.