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Largest Flight Attendant Union in the U.S. Throws Weight Behind JetBlue Takeover of Spirit After Securing Bumper Payrises

Largest Flight Attendant Union in the U.S. Throws Weight Behind JetBlue Takeover of Spirit After Securing Bumper Payrises

a yellow airplane on a runway

The largest and possibly most powerful flight attendant union in the United States has thrown its weight behind the planned merger between JetBlue and Spirit Airlines after it managed to secure bumper pay rises of between 10 and 27 per cent for Spirit’s inflight crew members.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which also represents crew at United and Alaska Airlines, had originally backed the tentative deal struck between Spirit and fellow budget carrier Frontier before JetBlue persuaded Spirit’s shareholders to back its hostile takeover bid.

a group of airplanes on a runway

AFA-CWA also represents flight attendants at Frontier, whereas the rival Transport Workers Union (TWU) won the right to represent JetBlue’s cabin crew several years ago.

“After securing improvements and protections for Spirit Flight Attendants in recent days, we are excited to announce our strong support for the JetBlue-Spirit merger,” commented Sara Nelson, president of the AFA-CWA, on Tuesday.

“Our union has experience with eight mergers in the past ten years. We agree with sceptics that consolidation has accrued extraordinary power to a few airlines,” Nelson admitted.

“However, this merger will help to correct that. The jetBlue-Spirit merger adds competition to the airline industry that creates more power for workers, along with choice and comfort that benefits consumers.”

Key to the deal will be an immediate pay rise of between 10 and 27 per cent for Spirit’s flight attendants, along with further guaranteed pay rises that have already been locked in for the next two years.

JetBlue has also promised to protect Spirit flight attendants from furlough once the takeover goes ahead, and seniority will be protected on both sides of the merger.

The TWU has, however, been far less welcoming of the planned Spirit acquisition because JetBlue has “proven itself to be an abusive employer” and had left crew members “physically and mentally exhausted”.

The rival union fears the merger could give JetBlue the power to “eliminate thousands of good-paying jobs and low-cost flight options for customers,” but Nelson dismissed those concerns on Tuesday.

In fact, Nelson argues the merger will increase competition and improve pay and benefits for flight attendants. The AFA-CWA even claims that JetBlue’s generous 32” seat pitch in Economy will improve the working environment for cabin crew and reduce the risk of passenger anger.

As to when the merger might go ahead, however, remains up in the air. JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes says a team of lawyers is currently preparing to fight a possible lawsuit from the Department of Justice which would aim to block the deal.

The DOJ has not yet revealed whether it will attempt to block or significantly alter the merger but on Tuesday, Nelson urged regulators to clear the merger “as soon as possible”.

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