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Exclusive: JetBlue flight attendants seek to hold unionization vote

JetBlue Airways logo is displayed on a monitor in Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport during a terminal test in New York Aug
JetBlue Airways logo is displayed on a monitor in Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport during a terminal test in New York Aug

By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Flight attendants at JetBlue Airways are pushing for a vote on whether to unionize, marking a second organizing effort at the formerly non-union airline after pilots authorized joining a union on Tuesday.

The flight attendants are working with the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) to sign authorization cards that would let them hold an election under national labor rules, the TWU told Reuters.

"We're getting them in very quickly," Thom McDaniel, a TWU International vice president, said of the cards.

JetBlue said it was aware of union drives by flight attendants, but the company believed the effort was still in its early stages.

"We're not aware of a mature effort," spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said. "We know that unions and some people within the companies are very interested in bringing unions in."

The TWU said a drive last year came within about 250 cards of the amount necessary to force a vote. McDaniel said he is confident that the union can obtain enough cards in the next few months to call a vote by the end of the year. The union's claims could not be independently verified.

The campaign was relaunched in January, McDaniel said, after a previous drive, which began in October 2012, ran up against a card-expiration deadline. Under labor rules, authorization cards expire after 12 months.

If the drive succeeds, about 4,000 JetBlue flight attendants would join 2,600 JetBlue pilots who agreed on Tuesday to be represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, ending JetBlue's status as a non-union carrier.

Some 71 percent of the pilots eligible to vote backed the plan to unionize, ALPA said on Tuesday.

JetBlue stock fell about 4 percent on Tuesday after the announcement. It closed on Thursday at $8.37, down 2.6 percent.

Under labor rules, employees can authorize a vote if 50 percent of the group plus one person sign authorization cards.

JetBlue said such a "tipping point" appeared far off.

"We're not aware that we're anywhere close to that kind of scenario," Dervin said.

JetBlue reported a $4 million profit for the first quarter on Thursday. Chief Executive Officer David Barger said the airline sees no material change in its financial outlook as a result of the pilots' vote.

JetBlue pilots recently received a 20 percent raise, and the time to negotiate a new contract could be 32 months, Barger added.

The TWU's McDaniel said flight attendants are concerned about job losses in a merger, pay that they say is near the bottom of the industry and work rules that are not consistent.

Dervin said the crew members are covered by rules providing severance if the company changes hands, that pay is on a par with peers and that flexible working rules are developed with input from a committee that includes flight attendants.

One worker at the airline said many flight attendants are concerned about these issues, however, and the support for the union was strong.

"Flight attendants are ready for a union," said one flight attendant, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being fired. "I have a feeling it's going to go the same way as the pilots."

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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