Allegiant Travel Co. flight attendants voted in favor of union representation, ending the company's status as one of the few in the airline industry with a completely independent work force.
The tally of votes that concluded at 11 a.m. Wednesday showed that 220 out of 392 flight attendants cast votes in favor of a union, 137 against and 35 abstentions. All but two of the "yes" votes agreed to join the Transport Workers Union, which directed the organizing campaign.
This vote marked a turnaround from four years ago, when an Association of Flight Attendants effort to organize Allegiant Travel, which operates discount flier Allegiant Air, fell short. Afterwards, the company formed an in-house committee to hear and handle work issues and complaints, a system that continues with Allegiant's pilots.
But flight attendants came to feel the committee was a dead end instead of a path to progress.
"Management promised us four years ago they would work with us if we gave them the opportunity and they didn't," flight attendant Kristi Cohen said. "What you see now is a work force tired of being pushed down and neglected."
She and other flight attendants cited work rules and a perceived favoritism to certain flight attendants in matters such as scheduling as driving them toward a union.
In particular, they said they object to being paid only for actual flight time even though mechanical or weather delays can extend their shifts by hours.
"Hourly pay is not the issue," flight attendant Karen McKenna said. "But when you bring in the other factors, we are paid quite a bit below others in the industry."
In a statement, Allegiant Chairman and CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. said his company "will work with the TWU to the best interests of both our employees and the company. Contract negotiations can be a lengthy process and we do not anticipate any disruptions to our business or operations."
The election marks the first step in the process that will include organizing an Allegiant union leadership and negotiating a contract. Any impasses could wind up before the National Mediation Board, the agency that oversaw the election, and further extend the time line.
"We are talking about something that will take years," said aviation consultant Robert Mann in Port Washington, N.Y. "In the short term, there will be no change. In the long term, I don't see (Allegiant managers) agreeing to something that will imperil their business model."
Therefore, he said, the union's true impact can't be quantified until a contract has been signed.
In the past, Allegiant Travel has credited flexible work rules for helping it grow quickly and increase profits even as other airlines went into a financial tailspin.
"We believe we have one of the most productive work forces in the U.S. airline industry," Allegiant stated in its annual report, driven partly by "fewer unproductive labor work rules" than rivals.
In another section of the report, the company noted, "If our employees unionize, it could result in demands that may increase our operating costs and adversely affect our profitability."
However, McKenna said, "We would never do anything to hurt the company. Our company has brilliant businesspeople."
Unworried by the union results, investors sent Allegiant's stock up 51 cents, or 1.04 percent, Wednesday to close at $49.69 on the Nasdaq Global Select Market.
During the voting period, which began Nov. 30, Gallagher and Allegiant appealed to the flight attendants not to interject "an outside organization" into labor relations that could harm the company. The union, on its website, warned that the company would employ "fear, intimidation and divide-and-conquer techniques to get us to vote against forming a union."
But overall, TWU organizer Steve Roberts said, the election was relatively calm and free of some of the sharper tactics that have cropped up elsewhere.
TWU organizing activities will take only a short break. Starting Dec. 30, Allegiant will face another election by dispatchers, a group that includes 13 people, that will conclude Jan. 24.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.