Flight attendants at the largest regional airline in the US, SkyWest, are seeking to unionize the airline, taking on what they claim is an illegal company union and pushing back on alleged retaliatory firings of two flight attendants who were leaders of an organizing campaign.
Flight attendants at SkyWest, which operates flights for Delta, United, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, are currently represented by the SkyWest Inflight Association (SIA), a work group that does not purport to be a union and is supported and funded by the airline itself, according to a handbook for SIA representatives.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) is seeking to unionize over 4,000 flight attendants at the airline and has accused the SkyWest of fostering a well-known anti-union culture which it says “includes illegal ‘in-house’ company unions”.
On 13 September, two flight attendants at SkyWest Airlines were fired, which the union has alleged is retaliation for their public leadership roles in the union organizing campaign and is demanding their reinstatement.
Tresa Grange worked as a flight attendant at SkyWest for 24 years before she was recently terminated along with Shane Price, a flight attendant at the airline for about nine years.
Grange said about two years ago she reached out to the AFA-CWA to start getting a union organizing drive started, in part due to her experience as a representative for the SkyWest Inflight Association and her experience in management.
“SkyWest Inflight Association is run as an extension of inflight management and that is why I am passionately after a legally recognized contract through a union,” said Grange. “They can bend and break and twist and utilize a policy or procedure in any way that supports or helps the company, however, the flight attendants cannot.”
Price said the union opposition from SkyWest has ramped up this year as the union organizing started gaining momentum and flight attendants began wearing pins and putting union pins on their luggage. SkyWest cites the existence of SIA as to why its workers don’t need a union.
But Price and their supporters don’t buy that.
“It’s been building momentum all along, and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger. And as that has happened, I feel like we started to see the company response just louder and louder,” said Price. “I wanted to have an independent organization that was us, protecting us and standing up for ourselves when management crosses the line and doesn’t follow the procedures and protections that are in place to protect us.”
He argued their firings exhibit SIA’s role as an extension of management. For example, a Facebook group run by SIA states as one of its rules, “any links to unions will be removed”.
Meanwhile, SkyWest Airlines warned in its 2022 annual report: “If our employees were to unionize or be deemed to be represented by one or more national unions, negotiations with these unions could divert management’s attention and disrupt operations, which may result in increased operating expenses and may negatively impact our financial results.”
Grange added that SkyWest Inflight Association has not communicated with them at all or provided any support or assistance.
“We’re filing appeals through the SkyWest process, but also through the AFA legal team, and they’re exploring all of our legal options. So, we are being supported as we should be, but not through SkyWest, through AFA,” added Grange. “This has been my entire career at SkyWest airlines. I have 100% loved to fly and I care deeply about my fellow crew members and peers. I have always stood up to anyone and everyone to do the right thing for my fellow employees and peers and that’s exactly what I’ve done, and I would do it again.”
SkyWest denied all allegations of retaliation saying the pair had “violated company policy and the law”.
SkyWest also denied allegations that SIA is illegal as “baseless and without merit”.