Virgin America Flight Attendants Seek Union Representation


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Virgin America Flight Attendants Seek Union Representation

By Steve Hall

October 24, 2011 - While Virgin tries to create “wow” for Passengers its policies for flight attendants more often meet with “say what?!” An overwhelming majority of flight attendants at Virgin America, a low-cost carrier known for high quality service and innovative onboard amenities, has filed a petition at the National Mediation Board (NMB) seeking union representation with the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). 

Flying Virgin can be enjoyable for passengers but flight attendants have a very different experience,” TWU Organizing Director Frank MacCann said. “Work rules are inconsistently enforced, promises regarding rest, vacation and benefits are often broken, and discipline for minor violations can be unnecessarily harsh and inconsistently applied,” McCann said.

“It’s become difficult for flight attendants, who helped build this company, to believe what management tells them. Flight attendants realize that the only way they can improve their working conditions is to form a union.” More than 650 flight attendants work for Virgin America and are domiciled in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Founded by British media and transportation mogul Richard Branson, the airline began U.S. operations in 2007 and flies to 12 U.S. cities and three locations in Mexico. 

“We’re very proud that Virgin America wins high marks from travelers, based on the service we provide,” said Ramon Wood, a Virgin flight attendant based at New York’s JFK. “We believe we can make service better for passengers and elevate working conditions for in-flight team members by having a voice in our dealings with the company. Right now we’re seldom heard and our concerns are not addressed,” he said. “This is why we turned to TWU.  

TWU members have a real track record of success at low-cost carriers like Southwest and Allegiant, so we think this is a really good fit.” Nearly 10,000 TWU members enjoy long-standing contractual protections at Southwest, which carries more domestic passengers than any other airline and has turned a profit for 38 consecutive years.  

More than two-thirds of Allegiant Airlines’ flight attendants voted in favor of TWU representation in December of 2010. In 2012, as a result of the merger between AirTran and Southwest, all of AirTran’s flight attendants will gain TWU representation. The union also has an organizing campaign underway at JetBlue Airlines.


Flight attendants at Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airlines and subsidiary Virgin Australia have voted to form unions with British and Australian labor unions. “We want a union because we believe success for our company and success for employees go hand in hand,” said Sherry Shoemake, a Virgin America flight attendant from San Francisco. 

“Sitting down to negotiate a contract will give us a chance to put consistent rules in place. We operate differently than many other airlines. We want a contract that reflects and respects the Virgin America difference. We’re not looking for some cookie-cutter contract, we want to ‘Virginize’ labor relations.” 

The National Mediation Board, which supervises union representation elections in the transportation industry, is required to schedule an election within 45 days. Virgin America flight attendants will vote under new democratic procedures approved by the NMB in 2010, which specify that elections will be decided by a simple majority of those voting. In the past, any worker who did not vote was counted as a “no” ballot. The new NMB rules align voting procedures for railway and labor workers with those that apply to all other private sector workers. 

“We’re here to support Virgin America flight attendants in every way we can,” said TWU’s McCann. “We fully expect management at Virgin American to respect the decision made by the majority of flight attendants to seek union representation, and we look forward to a fast and fair election campaign.”

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