Save the Profession
- Jan 19, 2004
- Total Time
Looks like SWAPA union Prez, Kuwitzky has had media training and the JBPA rep, Evans, needs it....
Good luck JPBA, make good use of my contribution$!
Good luck JPBA, make good use of my contribution$!
JetBlue Airways faces first union election
Friday December 19, 1:56 pm ET
By David Koenig, AP Airlines Writer JetBlue Airways pilots ready to vote on union; organizers say they are 'realistic' about wages
DALLAS (AP) -- Since it began flying in 2000, JetBlue Airways has operated free of labor unions as part of a strategy to keep labor costs below those at highly unionized competitors.
That could change next month, however, when JetBlue pilots begin voting on a proposal to form their own union to bargain over wages, benefits and other issues.
Leaders of the organizing campaign hope to pattern their group after the pilots' union at Southwest Airlines Co., which is ironic because JetBlue itself was patterned after Southwest's low-fare model.
Southwest has enjoyed relative labor peace despite having one of the highest percentages of union workers among U.S. carriers. JetBlue pilots say they too want to avoid the kind of bitter labor-management fighting common at other airlines, and say they will be realistic about wages while the recession cuts into demand for air travel.
JetBlue lost money for three straight years, turned a profit last year, but lost $19 million through the first nine months of 2008. It delayed delivery of 31 jets and no longer expects to grow next year.
"I think we're below average in just about every measure of compensation, but today is not the time to be asking for money," says Bill Evans, a Boston-based pilot. "We know we're facing a severe economic situation."
Mike Sorbie, another member of the organizing drive, said union representation would help the pilots win better health and retirement benefits and protect their seniority rights in case JetBlue merges with another airline. Seniority dictates which pilots get the best-paying assignments and which ones lose their jobs first in a downturn like the one now facing the industry. And when airlines merge, seniority fights can get ugly.
Leaders of the JetBlue Pilots Association collected enough signed cards from pilots favoring a union to force an election, which will run from Jan. 6 until Feb. 3. The pilots association says it is confident of winning.
The JetBlue group elected to form an independent union rather than become part of the larger Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA. Many JetBlue pilots came from ALPA carriers with hostile labor-management relations.
"We wanted to see if there was a model of success instead of becoming discouraged by all the models of failure," Evans said.
JetBlue opposes a union but declined to make an official available for comment. In a statement, spokesman Todd Burke said, "We believe a direct relationship with the company is in the pilots' best interest."
Unions, with the power to bargain over wages and benefits, have long been thought to increase costs at airlines. But Anthony Sabino, a business and law professor at St. John's University who has represented creditors in airline bankruptcy cases, said a union would not have much clout while the airline industry is losing billions.
In the current climate, "even a unionized work force doesn't have much leverage," Sabino said. "When the boom cycle returns it might be different, but right now the first order of business for everybody at JetBlue -- like everybody at all the other carriers -- is survival."
New York-based JetBlue has more than 1,900 pilots and a total of about 11,500 employees, including nearly 3,000 part-timers.
In 2006, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers tried to organize the company's baggage handlers but failed to get enough workers to sign cards for an election.
Pilots Evans and Sorbie said they decided to form an independent union so it would be more in tune with JetBlue's needs. But independent unions can be just as adversarial as bigger ones such as ALPA.
At American, the independent Allied Pilots Association regularly clashes with management. Pilots have tried to strike and conduct sickouts. The two sides have made little progress in two years of contract negotiations, leading the union to take out billboards blasting the company.
Even at Southwest, it's not all hugs and kisses. Pilots and other workers have picketed to protest slow contract negotiations, and they worry that deals with Canadian and Mexican airlines could threaten their jobs.
"We have our spats with management, but we can't get a divorce; we're stuck with each other," said Carl Kuwitzky, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association. "The company has to succeed for our pilots to do well."
Kuwitzky said he was puzzled by JetBlue's opposition to unions, noting that Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher helped set a conciliatory tone by recognizing the pilots' union without forcing them to hold a federally sanctioned election.
William Swelbar, a researcher at MIT and director of Hawaiian Airlines parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc., said JetBlue needs to remain flexible and avoid rigid work rules, especially during an industry downturn. If JetBlue and its pilots can do that, "there should be no reason to believe that the carrier's labor-cost advantage will be undermined by the pilots forming an in-house union," Swelbar said. "Southwest has proven this over the past three decades."