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Salem’s new airline partner has anti-union past (and present)
Avelo’s management has been battling its own flight attendants for years
The reboot effort on commercial air service at Salem Municipal Airport finds the city partnered up with a start-up airline waging war on unionization efforts among its employees.
Flight attendants with Avelo Airlines voted to unionize in early 2022, but executives with the ultra-low cost, Houston-based airline have been challenging that action ever since.
Avelo’s challenge to allowing their own flight attendants to unionize comes down to one core issue - the perceived credibility of the actual vote to join the union (in this case the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA).
Ultimately, according to a series of statements from Avelo’s Head of Communications, Jim Olson, the airline believes a flight attendant union is unnecessary because, “We continue to believe Avelo’s direct collaboration is the best way to build an airline our Customers love to fly and our Crewmembers are proud to be part of.”
It’s a common stance taken by corporations trying to persuade workers that their mutual relationship will be so awesome, a union would only make things confusing. It’s also the same flavor of argument fairy tale villains often use to lure unsuspecting victims.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat still hasn’t booked a flight from Salem with Avelo. We might. Probably to Vegas. Anyway, double down on local journalism in the meantime and help keep the spotlight on important local issues. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Flight Attendant-CWA International President Sara Nelson made clear what Avelo’s actions meant to organized labor:
“Avelo Flight Attendants showed incredible courage and solidarity in the face of an aggressive anti-union campaign,” Nelson said. “Now, it’s time for Avelo management to stop wasting time and money fighting its workers, and collaborate with them to lock in a contract that respects workers and strengthens the airline. Our entire Flight Attendant family stands with Avelo AFA crew to help them secure the rights, protections and benefits they deserve.”
Avelo dragging feet on acknowledging union vote, denied request for new vote
The specific challenge from Avelo is the amount of flight attendants who were actually eligible to vote - a relatively low number, just 14 by the time a vote was held. In fact, Avelo argued, the vote to join the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA was successful by just 2 votes - an 8 to 6 tally in favor of organized labor.
Since then, Avelo claims, the number of flight attendants have increased significantly as the airline expands operations in select markets across the United States. And, Avelo feels, those new employees should have a say in whether Avelo flight attendants join a union.
There’s a huge problem with that perspective, though, according to union officials. From Airline Weekly:
“AFA filed for an election on Oct. 21, 2021. The election took place in March. Results were announced April 13. “When we filed, there were 32 flight attendants and 30 signed cards,” Nelson said. “But Avelo is a really difficult place to work, and the attrition was extraordinary. All through the election there was incredible fear and intimidation. There were some firings, but mostly flight attendants chose to leave.”
AFA-CWA spokeswoman Taylor Garland said that at the time the union filed for the election, it had cards from 94 percent of the flight attendants working at the time. The NMB certified the election in February, she said.
“Avelo flight attendants will not pay a dollar in dues until they all vote on a first contract ... so the idea that eight people will decide the future for all the flight attendants” doesn’t hold water, Garland said.
There hasn’t been any recent reporting on the how far Avelo’s challenge to the union election has gone, but in April 2022 Avelo executives were signaling they would continue battling organized labor in their own workforce. From Simple Flying:
Avelo, represented by legal firm Jones Day, has been embroiled in a legal battle against the NMB (The National Mediation Board). The airline has accused the board of violating federal labor law by preventing new hires from voting in the election, citing the Railway Labor Act.
"We will press forward with the lawsuit our company previously filed in federal court challenging the legitimacy of an election that denied most of our Flight Attendants a vote in this important decision. We continue to believe Avelo’s direct collaboration is the best way to build an airline our Customers love to fly and our Crewmembers are proud to be part of,” said Jim Olson, Head of Communications at Avelo Airlines.
How does any of this impact commercial air service in Salem?
Not at all.
The deal is already done. Because the identity of the airline partner was kept secret from the public until July 2023, there was no chance for local media or other interested parties to do any type of diligence into what Avelo Airlines stands for and how they treat their employees.
And because Salem’s Municipal Airport won’t be a hub for Avelo, they won’t keep any planes there and wouldn’t be doing any local hiring. So their anti-worker positions and legal challenges against employees’ right to organized labor shouldn’t directly impact anything locally.
But for those who support the working class and like to spend their money with organizations that also support organized labor, it’s worth understanding the history of Salem’s new airline partner.
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