When JetBlue’s pilots voted to unionize last month, it left just one non-union shop among U.S. airlines, Virgin America.
That distinction may be short lived if Virgin America’s flight attendants are as disgruntled as a Reuters report would suggest.
According to the coverage, the Transport Workers Union has received support from “far more” than the required 50 percent of the carrier’s 850 flight attendants to put unionization up for a vote, and the flight attendants have filed a request with the National Mediation Board to hold an election. The airline will have an opportunity to contest the move, but short of showing that the flight attendants’ support was fraudulently overstated, there appears to be little that can be done to derail the employee group’s unionization.
The flight attendants voted against a bid to organize in 2011, so the question naturally arises: What changed?
There’s no ready answer to that question, but it’s a given that unions only get traction when labor-management relations are strained. So it’s a safe bet that, for whatever reasons, Virgin America’s flight attendants are dissatisfied with their current working conditions. And since morale is a key driver when it comes to delivering customer service, there is a real danger that the inflight experience of Virgin America’s customers will be degraded. There’s also the prospect of higher ticket prices if unionization leads to higher employee-compensation costs for the airline.
Virgin America has been on a roll lately, with its pick-up of new gates at Dallas Love Field and its first full-year profit. Those are signal accomplishments, to be sure. The airline’s next challenge should be to get its employee-relations house in order.
Reader Reality Check
Are Virgin America’s flight attendants noticeably more crabby these days?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.