JetBlue ground operations workers seek union representation

A JetBlue passenger jet (Embraer 190) taxis at LaGuardia Airport in New York, New York.

Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images

A major airline union said Friday that it has enough support among JetBlue Airways‘ roughly 3,000 fleet service staff to seek a unionization vote, in the latest move to organize workers.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said it will file an application for a union vote with the National Mediation Board. The work group includes baggage handlers and other ground operations employees.

A vote in favor could create the third-largest unionized work group at the New York-based airline. JetBlue’s pilots and flight attendants are already unionized. It would come during a wave of union votes across companies from Amazon to Starbucks.

A vote could also take place while JetBlue is in the process of trying to acquire budget airline Spirit Airlines, where more than 80% of employees are represented by unions, compared with JetBlue’s 46%, according to annual company filings.

Ensuring more predictable schedules is one of the pillars of a potential labor contract for the fleet service workers, IAM’s air transport territory general vice president, Richard Johnsen, told CNBC.

“They really have never had that opportunity to have a say in their future,” he said. “Now might be the most critical time.”

Staff schedules plunged early in the pandemic but surged along with travel demand as Covid cases waned, sparking tensions with airline unions across the U.S.

“JetBlue values its relationship with all of our crewmembers including our ground operations crewmembers who, for the last two years, helped manage the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic,” the carrier said in a statement. “We firmly believe that the direct relationship we have with our ground operations crewmembers has worked, and will continue to work, and that third-party representation and the costs to our crewmembers that come with it are not in their best interests.”

Most major airline workers are already largely represented by unions, though less so at some carriers like JetBlue than at some competitors.

Delta Air Lines is the largest U.S. carrier whose workers aren’t mostly unionized. However, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the country’s largest flight attendant union, is in the middle of a union drive there, which it launched in 2019. Flight attendants had previously rejected unionization.

(With inputs from CNBC)