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Tim O'Reiley
 

Union's rolling billboard parodies Allegiant slogan

16 November 2012

By Tim O'Reiley

LAS VEGAS -- Negotiators for the Transport Workers Union tried to settle a large majority of the issues for the initial contract covering Allegiant Travel Co. flight attendants in September before calling in top executives to seal the deal.

Instead, Allegiant Chairman and CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. remained true to his maverick style, upending negotiations by appearing at the table and ruling out collecting union dues from employees and firing those who won't pay.

"I'm sure I'm the bad guy in these situations," Gallagher told analysts in October.

The aftermath played out Thursday, as TWU Local 577 hired a rolling billboard to go past the company headquarters as Wall Street analysts arrived for the company's annual briefing. The sign, a takeoff on the Allegiant slogan, "Travel is Our Deal," read, "Money is Our Deal. Putting profits before people for 39 quarters."

This came after bargaining sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, overseen by a federal mediator at an undisclosed off-Strip hotel, made little headway. Two more meetings are scheduled for the third week of December.

"Everybody's job in this company is a fact of us going left when everybody else went right," Gallagher said. "As we get successful, please do not bring the tried and true labor approaches."

In particular, he has objected to a union dues check-off, which he acknowledges is standard in the airline industry.

"While we don't object to union dues or anything like that," he said, he has refused to collect them as a paycheck deduction or to dismiss employees who won't pay.

For the union, said Thom McDaniel, a vice president with the TWU international advising the flight attendants, the check-off is essential.

The other major difference, as laid out by union representatives, involves what is known as the duty rig. A flight attendant is paid for time on the plane and not for the entire trip, even if it becomes extended by mechanical problems or bad weather.

Debra Petersen-Barber, a seven-year flight attendant leading the union's negotiating team, cited an example of one flight attendant who was paid for the eight hours of flight time for what would normally have been a 12-hour trip but ultimately lasted about 19 hours. The union proposal would pay for the greater of the plane time, or half of the total trip; in Petersen-Barber's example, the flight attendant would have been credited with 9.5 hours on the job instead of eight.

Company executives have repeatedly cited flexible operations and low-operating costs as their key advantages.

Other issues that have been considered include:

- Pay rates, with the difference between the two sides not specified.

- The length of the contract, with the union asking for three years and the company wanting 10 years.

- The newly announced crew base in Hawaii, which has emerged recently as an issue because it will be a home for part-time flight attendants. The union fears this model could eventually be rolled out across the system, but the company has not stated this as a strategy.

Flight attendants voted for the union in December 2010.