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Allegiant Air flight attendants soundly reject new contract

Flight attendants at Allegiant Air, a Las Vegas-based airline that has 95 percent of the passenger traffic at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, voted to reject a pact that would have given them pay raises and improved sick leave. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
Flight attendants at Allegiant Air, a Las Vegas-based airline that has 95 percent of the passenger traffic at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, voted to reject a pact that would have given them pay raises and improved sick leave. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Oct. 10, 2016

Allegiant Air's flight attendants have overwhelmingly rejected a new tentative agreement with the budget airline and authorized a strike, though no work stoppage is yet planned by their union.

About 76 percent of flight attendants who voted rejected a pact that would have given them pay raises, improved sick leave and vacation, and a grievance process in results reported to membership on Sept. 28.

The vote to reject the agreement and to authorize a strike was 600 to 185 with 90 percent of Allegiant's flight attendants taking part, according to the Transport Workers Union of America.

Thom McDaniel, international vice president of the union, said the union would return to the bargaining table and said no strike is imminent. The union is still working with a federal mediator and would need approval to strike, which it has not yet sought.

McDaniel said flight attendants remain frustrated at a tentative contract proposal that would provide lesser benefits than those given pilots, who approved their first contract with Allegiant in July.

Those included a smaller 401(k) match by the company and slower accrual of vacation and sick time, he said. But the union is now conducting a survey to determine exactly why flight attendants were unhappy with the pact.

"I think the issue is why it takes so long to get an agreement over things that shouldn't be that controversial," McDaniel said.

Allegiant officials said talk of a strike was "premature and is speculation."

"The process of negotiations can take a long time, and although disappointing for both parties, it's not unusual in today's environment for a first tentative agreement to be turned down," said Tracy Tulle, Allegiant's vice president of in-flight services. "We expect to be meeting again per the National Mediation Board's determination, and remain fully committed to the process and to ultimately reach a fair agreement for our flight attendants."

Union officials said in a message to flight attendants that they would ask for immediate meetings with the airline's management.

"The final numbers deliver a clear message," the union said. "We are committed to standing strong to ensure that Allegiant Air flight attendants can produce and ratify an agreement that recognizes our contribution to the success of our company."

Allegiant's pilots have pledged to honor any decision to strike by flight attendants and said they would not cross a picket line.

The pilot union's executive council sent a letter of support to flight attendants on Sept. 14.

"No one ever desires to go on strike," wrote pilot Cameron Graff, chairman of the executive council, and executive council member Corey Berger. "But at the end of the day, labor's most effective tool is the withholding of our services. The overwhelming united voice of the Allegiant pilots in our vote to strike undeniably had a positive effect on the outcome of our negotiations … You have our commitment to honor any potential strike or picket line conducted by the flight attendants."

A federal court blocked Allegiant pilots' attempt to strike in 2015. The pilots finally approved a contract in July. It remains unclear whether Allegiant would again use the courts to block any work stoppage.

Allegiant flies more than 95 percent of passenger traffic out of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, which has enjoyed record passenger numbers as Allegiant continues to expand.

Remarkably for an airline that is often in the news, the flight attendants' vote to reject a tentative agreement appears to have attracted no notice in the media, and the union did not move to publicize the results.

It has been mostly smooth sailing for Allegiant in recent months after more than a year of negative publicity over emergency landings and labor difficulties. After the pilots approved their contract in July, the company announced it would buy 12 brand-new Airbus aircraft to improve the reliability of its fleet.

Allegiant has maintained problems with its fleet of older MD-80 series aircraft do not mean the airline is unsafe. But in recent months, company leaders have acknowledged the unreliability of the planes caused operational difficulties.

Allegiant's fleet of about 84 planes is composed of a mix of Airbus and MD-80 aircraft.

Times staff writer Justine Griffin contributed to this report. Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com.

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