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Allegiant flight attendants picket headquarters

After two years of on-again, off-again negotiations, Allegiant Travel Co. flight attendants have made little headway in their negotiations with management to forge their first union contract.

But as about 20 of them picketed in front of the company headquarters on Wednesday, they had received a bit of a boost over the weekend in their efforts to pressure the company by highlighting operating snafus at the Allegiant Air unit. An Allegiant flight from McCarran International Airport on Sunday that arrived at Mesa, Ariz., four hour and 20 minutes late received international attention when a passenger posted to YouTube a video of passengers breaking out in a spontaneous rendition of the song, “I Believe I Can Fly.”

“We’re hoping that Maury (chairman and CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr.) will being to realize the value that employees bring to the company and negotiate seriously,” said Debra Petersen-Barber, a flight attendant and lead negotiator on behalf of about 600 flight attendants. “There is also a board of directors, and we’re hoping some of them will stand up to (Gallagher) and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

The flight attendants voted for representation by the Transport Workers Union in December 2010. Talks began the following June but have been stalled over several issues for the past nine months.

Company spokesman Brian Davis declined to comment on specifics.

“Management is interested in attacking issues, not each other,” he said. “We’re working with the union in good faith on a range of issues and trying to reach solutions beneficial to both.”

Although a number of disagreements have cropped up, the three main areas outlined by Petersen-Barber include:

— A dues check, where union dues are automatically deducted from pay much like taxes. Gallagher has adamantly opposed this, but the union claims it is necessary to fund itself.

— So-called duty regs, allowing flight attendants to receive compensation for time on a shift where they are not actually working on the plane, such as during major delays due to mechanical problems. The company has said the flight attendants are already fairly compensated, but Petersen-Barber said they are more interested in making the company call in fresh crews for unusually long shifts rather than money.

— The length of the contract. The company wants a long term for financial certainty, but the union prefers a short one the first time so any shortcomings can be corrected.

“We want this company to be successful,” Petersen-Barber said. “We just want a fair contract.”

According to Davis, the ill-starred Flight 582 to Mesa pushed back from the gate four different times, and had to return twice due to unspecified mechanical problems and once due to a passenger illness. The latter instance necessitated changing plans.

This led to about 90 minutes of waiting in Concourse D at McCarran and two other stretches of one hour and 20 minutes each on the plane in temperatures of about 110 degrees. The limited cooling capabilities of Allegiant’s MD-80 series jet liners aggravated the wait on board.

The passenger-made YouTube video had already received nearly one million view hits by Wednesday afternoon and several other versions were added. Although it shows passengers in a party mood during the delays, Petersen-Barber said flight attendants in other parts of the plane were “subjected to verbal abuse, being called horrible names.”

Flights attendants could strike if other methods don’t lead to a contract, and the company has already trained people elsewhere in the company to take their places. But the attendants says they want to avoid this scenario.

“I’m proud the way Allegiant makes profits, but I am not proud of the way they have treated us,” said flight attendant Diane Chimko. Recalling her days at Continental Airlines when labor strife was rampant, she added, “I never want to do that again.”

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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