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Norwegian’s US flight attendants join unions

Flight attendants at Norwegian and Norwegian Air International (NAI) in the USA have elected to join unions, even as labour groups maintain their opposition to the low-cost carrier’s "flag of convenience" model.

US-based cabin crew at Norwegian Air Shuttle have elected to join the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) and those at OSM Short-Haul US, the Norwegian-subsidiary that employs staff for NAI, have joined the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

AFA represents around 450 flight attendants based at Fort Lauderdale and New York John F Kennedy airports, and IAM around 40 flight attendants based at Newburgh Stewart and Providence airports, the unions say.

AFA will take over mediated negotiations with Norwegian from the Norwegian Cabin Crew Association (NCCA), whose membership voted 59% to join the larger flight attendant union today, an AFA spokeswoman says.

NCCA was formed in August 2016.

"Norwegian and OSM are looking into these election results, and also investigating why a number of our US-based cabin crew have reached out to us in the last 24 hours worried and concerned that they have not been allowed to vote in this election," says a spokesman for Norwegian on the NCCA board's decision to join AFA.

In response to the airline's comment, the AFA says that the election was closed to Norwegian per US labour laws.

Norwegian flies Boeing 787s to Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark Liberty, New York JFK, Oakland and Orlando from multiple points in Europe.

IAM has reached a five-year memorandum of understanding with OSM that covers flight attendants at NAI, the union says. The airline has agreed to recognise the union.

“[IAM] bargained both an initial collective bargaining agreement to ensure that NAI’s US-based flight attendants have all the benefits and guarantees of a union contract,” says Sito Pantoja, general vice-president of IAM, in a statement.

Norwegian declines to comment on the IAM agreement.

NAI will begin service to Hartford, Newburgh and Providence from Edinburgh with Boeing 737 Max 8s in June. It will add flights to the three US cities from Belfast, Bergen, Cork, Dublin and Shannon in July.

Norwegian plans to hire more than 200 flight attendants and pilots in Newburgh and Providence to support the new operation, executives have said.

The AFA and IAM have opposed the foreign air carrier permit that was granted to NAI in December 2016, calling it a flag of convenience model for Oslo-based Norwegian. The unions, along with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and AFL-CIO, filed a petition in January to overturn the permit.

“We are still opposed to the flag of convenience model,” says an AFA spokeswoman. However, she says the union supports Norwegian and NAI hiring US-based cabin crew for its flights.

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