Virgin America flight attendants may unionize 

The organizing director for TWU, Frank McCann, said flight attendants at Virgin America want to form a union because Virgin’s current work rules. - Getty Images file photo
  • The organizing director for TWU, Frank McCann, said flight attendants at Virgin America want to form a union because Virgin’s current work rules.Getty Images file photo

Flight attendants at Virgin America, the only major airline based out of San Francisco International Airport, are seeking to unionize.

The 650 employees of the airline will vote in December on whether to join the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents staffers on several other domestic carriers, including Southwest Airlines.

The attendants want to form a union because Virgin’s current work rules, particularly disciplinary measures, lack consistency, said Frank McCann, the organizing director for TWU. He said that a simple customer complaint could lead to suspension or dismissal from the company.



“They want consistency, they want due process, and they want a contract in place,” said McCann, who said an increase in work wages — the average starting salary is around $20,000 for flight attendants — is also likely to be put forth on the negotiating table if the workers unionize.

Virgin America spokeswoman Patricia Condon said the carrier would respect the flight attendants’ decision if they decide to form a union.

Joe D’Alessandro, executive director of San Francisco Travel, a tourism lobby, said The City depends heavily on Virgin America. He said if ticket prices go up because the attendants unionize, he feared fewer people would fly to San Francisco on Virgin.

“Virgin is a unique carrier that has a lot to do with San Francisco,” D’Alessandro said. “We’d hate to see anything that damages that relationship.”

John Logan, a labor relations professor at San Francisco State University, said he didn’t think the unionization of flight attendants would have a major effect on Virgin’s airline passengers.

“A lot of major airlines are heavily unionized, but I don’t think that affects their cost structure,” Logan said. Jamie Horwitz, spokesman for TWU, said that union movement doesn’t have to be acrimonious, as evidenced by the successful model at Southwest Airlines, which employs 10,000 TWU members.

To become unionized, more than 50 percent of the voting flight attendants must approve the measure. Horwitz said an “overwhelming majority” of the employees have indicated their intent to form a union. The union vote will happen in mid-December.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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