JetBlue Pilots Vote To Join Union

April 22, 2014

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JetBlue Airways pilots have voted to join the Air Line Pilots Association union, opting to have a bargaining agent after rejecting it in two prior votes.

The pilots are the first employee group at the New York-based discount carrier to elect to have a bargaining agent.

Of the 96 percent of pilots who were eligible to vote in the month-long election conducted by the US National Mediation Board, 71 percent voted to join ALPA, the union said in a statement. JetBlue has about 2,600 pilots.

"Today, JetBlue pilots have voted for ALPA representation so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers," Captains Gustavo Rivera and Rocky Durham, co-chairs of the JetBlue Organising Committee, said in the union's statement.

In response to the vote, JetBlue said in a statement that it and ALPA would form negotiating committees once the National Mediation Board authorises the union as the pilots' representative.

JetBlue has been a non-union company since its founding in 1998. Pilots there twice voted against unionising, with ALPA losing an election in 2011. An initial attempt by JetBlue pilots to form a union also took place around 2008, with only one-third of pilots voting to unionise.

Tuesday's vote came amid concern that the airline industry faces a shortage of pilots on account of new federal requirements for rest periods and experience.

US Federal Aviation Administration rules that took effect last summer require pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight time to operate commercial jets or cargo aircraft, up from the 250 hours previously required for co-pilots. Airlines also must comply with additional rules that took effect this year requiring more rest for US pilots.

The pilots' vote to unionise could raise costs at JetBlue.

The carrier warned earlier this year costs would rise largely because of an agreement reached with pilots to raise base pay rates by 20 percent. JetBlue said that increase was expected to add USD$145 million to its costs over the next few years - USD$30 million this year, USD$50 million in 2015 and USD$65 million in 2016.

JetBlue also said plans to hire more pilots this year in the wake of the new rest rules would pressure its costs in 2014.

(Reuters)