After Norwegian Air fought organized labor by classifying flight attendants as contractors and opposing unionization efforts, Norse Atlantic Airways is moving in the opposite direction with a proactive agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants and pledge to directly hire all workers. It’s an interesting strategy for a budget airline.
Norse Atlantic Airways Cuts Deal With Powerful AFA Flight Attendant Union, Plans To Hire 700 U.S. Flight Attendants
We’ve written about Norse Atlantic Airways before, which intends to reboot the longhaul operations of Norwegian Air, even using the same Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. Only this won’t be another Norwegian when it comes to labor polices. Instead, the carrier has staved off protests over its planned U.S. operations by cutting a deal with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) to unionize flight attendants, base them in the USA, and provide “industry-leading starting pay and job protections, healthcare, and a 401k, among other key benefits.” Over 700 flight attendants will be hired for U.S. service.
Norse intends to hire over 700 flight attendants, all of which will be U.S. based.
Such an agreement, before the airline has even launched, left AFA President Sara Nelson singing praises for Norse:
“This is what respect for workers and our unions looks like. We are proud to provide a path of return to work for AFA members who flew in a similar long-haul, low-cost operation. Those Flight Attendants organized and successfully beat back misguided efforts by a different management to misclassify Flight Attendants as contractors. But, as soon as they won the fight and a contract the airline ceased operations in March 2020.
Their hard work and commitment to our careers is paying off and raising the bar for Flight Attendants everywhere. Norse management is taking a refreshing approach to labor relations and demonstrating that the success of a business starts with good jobs. We are thrilled to announce this historic agreement and we look forward to getting people to work as soon as possible.”
But why? After all, if this is a budget airline that will only compete on price, how can it possibly pay flight attendants at U.S. levels? Whatever the answer, Norse CEO Bjørn Tore Larsen believes it is the wrong question.
“We are thrilled to reach this agreement with AFA and proud to make clear from the start that our airline puts people first. Travelers will gain a low-cost, long-haul option, but tickets will never be subsidized by our employees. We strongly believe building an airline with respect for the people who work for Norse is the best way to ensure success.
AFA has been an outspoken advocate for Flight Attendants and our airline will also benefit from working with this great union. This agreement for Flight Attendant jobs gives us even more urgency to lock in all of the regulatory approvals to start operations as soon as possible.”
There’s a certain genius to this move. While only time will tell whether this is lip service or genuine sentiment, by eliminating protest from organized labor early-on, Norse silences the heart of protest from not only U.S. flight attendant unions, but U.S. lawmakers.
Pilots are still skeptical – they share the same concerns as flight attendants that wages will represent such an imbalance between U.S. and Norse counterparts as to constitute predatory pricing. But I expect Norse to cut a similar deal with pilots.
The practical result of the new Norse – AFA agreement will be a faster start-up of U.S. operations for Norse. U.S. flight attendants are paid far more handsomely than many of their European counterparts. I do wonder if Norse has set itself up for failure by making so many concessions early on, though I applaud it for wanting to incentivize its flight attendants to work hard and be loyal. For consumers, I would not expect fares quite as low as Norwegian, but hopefully attractive one-way fares will keep the pressure on legacy airlines.
Will taking better care of Norse Atlantic Airways flight attendants result in success or failure for the new airline?