JetBlue pilots vote to join union; shares fall

Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:37pm EDT
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(Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O: Quote) pilots voted by a wide margin on Tuesday to join the Air Line Pilots Association union, sending the budget carrier's stock price down on concerns the move would raise the airline's costs.

About 71 percent of the pilots eligible to vote in the month-long election backed ALPA. JetBlue has about 2,600 pilots and 96 percent were eligible to vote.

The vote marked the first successful union drive by a group of workers at JetBlue.

It could lead to higher pay and benefits for workers, and is likely to encourage efforts to organize other workers at JetBlue and other budget airlines, which have enjoyed lower costs and more labor flexibility than mainline carriers.

Jetblue "is going to have to look at themselves as more of a traditional carrier," said Gary Chaisan, a labor professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "There will be attempts to organize the rest of the workers."

Shares of JetBlue closed down 1.9 percent to $8.59. The stock fell as low as $8.45 after the vote was announced.

JetBlue said it and ALPA would form negotiating committees once the National Mediation Board, which conducted the election, authorizes the union.

JetBlue, founded in 1998, had twice before faced a unionization effort by pilots, but the workers failed to muster enough votes.

The vote comes amid concern that the airline industry faces a shortage of pilots due in part to new federal rules requiring longer pilot rest periods and more hours of flying experience.   Continued...

A JetBlue Airbus A320-200 plane with a New York Fire Department logo painted on its side stands on the tarmac of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson