JetBlue pilots fail to secure votes to form union

NEW YORK — Pilots at JetBlue Airways have failed to get enough votes to form a union, ending a three-month effort that was opposed by the airline’s management.

But members of the organizing drive say they will continue their bid to form a union, and look to bring another vote to pilots within a year.

The JetBlue Pilots Association said Tuesday that 33% — 646 out of a total 1937 pilots — voted via phone or Internet in favor of the union. The proposal needed over 50% of pilots in favor to pass.

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger said in a statement that he is pleased that the airline’s “pilots have chosen to retain their direct relationship with the company.”

The Forest Hills, N.Y.-based carrier has opposed the pilots’ efforts to form a union since the organizing attempt began in November.

In an interview with the Associated Press, JetBlue pilot Mike Sorbie, a member of the organizing drive, said the effort to get the word out to JetBlue pilots was difficult. The pilot association choose not to team up with a larger national labor union such as the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA, which has hostile labor-management relations with some carriers.

The JetBlue Pilots Association said from the beginning of the effort that their attempt to form a union was not the result of strife between employees and the carrier, but rather preparation for possible future changes in leadership or other organizational shifts.

Sorbie said he believes the vote represents the fact that pilots want to give company leaders “a chance to address their concerns.” He said he’s encouraged by the process and wasn’t put off by management’s opposition.

JetBlue lost money for three straight years, turned a profit in 2007, and swung to a loss again in 2008 on some soured investments and record fuel costs.

JetBlue, with a total of about 11,500 employees, has operated without labor unions since it began flying in 2000 — part of a strategy to keep labor costs below those at its unionized competitors. A majority of U.S. airlines have unions currently representing at least a portion of their work force.

Sorbie underscored why he believes the union effort should continue.

“We want the benefit of a collective bargaining agreement and we need the benefits of representation,” he said. “We are trying to find our way, not only as a company, but as a pilots group. Eventually, we will find what works for JetBlue.”