LUXURY CHARTER JET PILOTS TELL UNION TO TAKE OFF
Union Decertification (representation decertification) is rare, so the Teamsters Union was surprised when they noticed that most of the pilots at luxury jet charter company OneSky Flight had requested an election to vote their union out.
OneSky Flight offers several types of luxury jet shared ownership and charter service for people with lots of money and places to go. OneSky Flight was created in 2013 with the merger of competing companies Flight Options, which had a union, and Flexjet, which did not. Hoping to keep the number of unionized employees at a minimum, OneSky became a parent company and ran the companies independently, Flight Options with a union, Flexjet without. As the companies expanded, the perception grew that Flexjet received newer and better planes and their pilots received favorable treatment.
The Teamsters represented Flight Options pilots who figured that they should also describe the Flexjet pilots and initiate steps. In 2015, National found that the Teamsters did have the right to represent both the Flight Options and Flexjet pilots. A representative certification election was held in 2015, and the Teamsters won the right to represent pilots at both companies by a slim margin. From the beginning of the new union arrangement, there was a history of friction between OneSky management and the union. The union claimed that OneSky was not negotiating a contract in good faith, and a court agreed, ordering OneSky to try harder to bargain fairly. Because the companies are considered airlines, the election and agreement were subject to the regulations of the Railway Labor Act.23
Looking to create a more upscale service for their wealthy owners and customers, Flexjet started Red Label, an elite service that included newer, fancier jets with upgraded interiors and the of a crew dedicated to that specific plane. Pilots selected to fly Red Label jets received significantly improved benefits, including 25 percent higher wages, stable crew assignments with a single jet instead of rotating crew assignments, self‐managed schedules, choice of home base/domicile, better medical insurance, higher per‐diem expense allowances, quarterly bonuses based on performance, and updated designer uniforms.24 The union opposed OneSky’s plan to increase the salary and benefits of the Red Label program pilots and felt it was one more example of OneSky’s failure to bargain in good faith.
Many pilots were unhappy with the union’s opposition to the opportunity to earn more money and have better working conditions with the Red Label program. Disgruntled pilots started a petition to decertify the union representation. OneSky Crew Lounge created an antiunion website (oscrewlounge.com) supporting the decertification that included a forum for pilots to discuss the issue and information on how to vote to decertify.
OneSky supported the decertification enthusiastically by communicating antiunion messages to employees, including one with a list of companies represented by unions that were no longer in business. They developed a Vote for Flexjet (voteforflexjet.com) loaded with information on how the pilots will be better off without the union.
The election was administered without paper ballots by the National Mediation Board under Railway Labor Act rules. Members were given access codes to vote online or on the phone. When the votes were counted, the pilots had voted 318 to 220 for decertification. The union was out.25
Immediately following the decertification, OneSky sent a letter of thanks to the pilots with a $1,000 bonus to celebrate the vote. OneSky also announced favorable changes in seniority, raises for first officers, increased availability of voluntary overtime, and better communication between pilots and OneSky leaders.
The Teamsters issued this statement upon learning the election results:
“Flexjet pilots, like their peers across the industry, will come to realize through their own experience that union representation is essential for maintaining professional independence, high safety standards, protection from the negative effects of mergers and acquisitions, and good pay, benefits, and working conditions.” 26
- Review the “Reasons Workers Join Unions” in Chapter 14. Evaluate them from the perspective of the pilots at Flexjet and Flight Options. What are your conclusions about the pilot’s incentives to remain with the Teamsters? (LO 1, 7)
- Why did the Teamsters oppose OneSky’s proposal to have a separate set of enhanced benefits for the Red Label pilots? (LO 2, 3)
- Explain which of OneSky’s actions seems most as an unfair labor practice. (LO 2, 3, 4)
- Research: Although the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) and the Railway Labor Act are similar, differences exist that affect the employer and the union, such as the National Mediation Board. Research these differences and explain how they affect the negotiations and contract administration between OneSky and the Teamsters. (LO 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)