Transport Workers Union, Highly Visible In New York, Looks To Organize More JetBlue Workers


Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen says he welcomes JetBlue’s flight attendants to the union, he is eager to negotiate a contract for them and he looks forward to organizing the carrier’s mechanics and passenger service agents.

On Tuesday, TWU won an National Mediation Board election to become the representative of the carrier’s 5,000 flight attendants. The count showed 2,661 in favor and 1,387 opposed. JetBlue has about 5,000 flight attendants. Of 4,701 eligible voters, 4,048 cast ballots.

TWU “has the reputation that we will take on nasty bosses,” Samuelsen said in an interview. “If you have the audacity to stand up and fight, workers are drawn to that.”

Samuelsen acknowledged that the organizing campaign seemed to benefit from high visibility in New York, where he previously led TWU Local 100, which represents subway workers and bus drivers. The campaign received a public endorsement from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — Samuelsen is a strong backer of Cuomo, who is seeking re-election — and from other state and city officials.

JetBlue has about 2,000 flight attendants based in New York. It also has large flight attendant bases in Boston and Fort Lauderdale.

In opposing the unionization effort, Queens-based JetBlue argued that it has a direct relationship with its employees and doesn’t need a union as a middle-man.

“Our crew members remain at the heart of the JetBlue experience and we value all they do to provide that experience to our customers,” the carrier said in a post-election prepared statement. “As we move forward, we will work to come together around our mission to inspire humanity that has set JetBlue apart from other airlines since day one.”

Samuelsen said the carrier “continues to identify the union as a third-party intervenor. News flash: they are one and the same, the workforce and the union.”

He promised an “aggressive public campaign” if the carrier hesitates to bargain, but so far there has been no indication of reluctance, he noted.

Meanwhile, TWU is attempting to organize JetBlue’s passenger service agents and mechanics — the carrier has about 2,500 agents and about 750 mechanics– while the International Association of Machinists is seeking to organize JetBlue’s 2,500 fleet service workers.

To call for an election, a union needs to collect signatures from 50% plus one of the members of a bargaining unit.

The efforts are making JetBlue look more like most other large airlines: Airlines comprise one of the most heavily unionized U.S. industries.

JetBlue began flying in 2000 and managed to avoid having labor unions on the property until 2014, when the Air Line Pilots Association organized its pilots.

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