United tried to replace bonuses with a $100,000 lottery

What is a low-cost carrier?
What is a low-cost carrier?

Feeling lucky? Employees of United Airlines weren't.

On Monday, United quickly shelved plans to replace quarterly employee bonuses with a $100,000 lottery prize, after a stinging backlash from its workforce.

The lottery, which the airline announced on Friday, would have paid $100,000 to one lucky employee selected at random, and smaller bonuses of $2,000 or $5,000 to about 1,300 more. Other employees would have gotten prizes including 50 vacation packages or 10 Mercedes.

The overwhelming majority of United's 90,000 workers would have lost bonuses that paid up to $1,500 over the course of the year.

"Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you," said Scott Kirby, president of United Continental (UAL), the holding company for the airline, in an email to employees. "We are pressing the pause button," he wrote.

Related: American Airlines says United got a better deal in major O'Hare makeover

Experts on compensation and workplace culture said they had never heard of a company of United's size and stature trying this kind of lottery program.

"I really thought it was a joke when I first heard of it," said Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm. "It's very amateurish."

The backlash and reversal comes while United is negotiating a new union contract with its pilots. The union wasn't happy with the lottery.

"This just puts a bad taste in our mouths," said Roger Phillips, a United pilot and spokesman for the pilots union at the airline.

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