IAM Announces Surprise “Voluntary Recognition” and Contract for NAI Flight Attendants

On March 29, IAM announced that it had been “voluntarily recognized” by a division of OSM Aviation (OSM Short Haul) to represent 40 US-based flight attendants employed by OSM but contracted to Norwegian Air International (NAI). At the same time, IAM announced that it had already negotiated a five-year contract with OSM.  The terms of the contract or whether it will be subject to ratification were not made public.

Contrary to what its name would imply, Norwegian Air International is actually not based in or certificated in Norway – its corporate home base is Ireland – and while it is an air carrier, it doesn’t directly employ any flight attendants. As noted, its flight attendants are employees of a division of the staffing company, OSM.

In 2013, NAI applied to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for a foreign air carrier permit that would allow it to conduct operations to and from the US. Initial approval was granted in April 2016, to the nearly universal outcry of US airlines and workers.  IAM had this to say at the time:

NAI is a Norwegian airline in name only. The carrier is registered in Ireland to avoid Norwegian safety and security regulations and rents its cabin crews from countries with little to no labor laws, like Thailand and Singapore. … If permitted access to the US aviation market, NAI will place severe downward pressure on the wages, benefits and working conditions of US airline workers….  We must take action to protect our jobs.

After final DOT approval was granted in December 2016, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and other industry labor groups – but not including the IAM – sued to undo the DOT’s decision.

In the meantime, the National Mediation Board (NMB) ruled in April 2016 that NAI’s parent, Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), and OSM were “joint employers” of the US-based flight attendants employed by OSM but operating flights for NAS. NAS had argued that it was not the employer of the flight attendants and OSM had argued that it was not an air carrier.  Thereafter, the NAS flight attendants voted for representation by the Norwegian Cabin Crew Association (NCCA), an independent union.  However, on March 30, one day after IAM’s announcement, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) announced that the NAS flight attendants had voted to join AFA.  A first contract has not yet been negotiated.

Contrary to the NAS situation, IAM’s “voluntary recognition” by OSM came without a secret ballot vote by NAI flight attendants – it was based on the company’s agreement to remain “neutral” and IAM’s presentation of authorization cards – and it came without a finding by the NMB that bound NAI as a “joint employer.” To add to this curious situation, at the same time the IAM announced that it had been “voluntarily recognized,” it also announced that it had already negotiated a first contract with a duration period of five years.  As of the publication of this article, the contract was not available.

The lawsuit to undo the DOT’s NAI’s decision is pending. In the meantime, Norwegian Air’s UK subsidiary awaits DOT approval.  And in February Norwegian announced 10 new routes with 38 new weekly transatlantic flights starting this summer to and from the East Coast with sale fares as low as 69 euro.

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