Frontier Airlines flight attendants picket company during contract talks

Frontier Airlines flight attendants picket company during contract talks

Originally published by The Denver Business Journal

Frontier Airlines flight attendants, having reached what they say is a major obstacle in their 15-month-long contract negotiations with the Denver-based airline, plan to picket at Denver International Airport Thursday to bring attention to their salary concerns.

The ultra-low-cost carrier is on-pace to be profitable for its third straight year and is going through a period of growth, planning to hire 800 flight attendants by the end of 2017 and to increase pilot hiring as it adds new routes around the country. But as it expands its staff, Frontier also is mired in negotiations with unions representing both its pilots and flight attendants, and neither are moving ahead quickly.

Pilots are so dissatisfied with the pace of talks that they asked the National Mediation Board to take control of negotiations more than a month ago. The NMB has not issued a decision on that request yet.

Flight attendants, meanwhile, have been negotiating more quietly for a new contract since July 2015 to address issues ranging from pay to benefits to work rules, said Angie Piller, a Frontier employee who represents the airline’s roughly 1,500 current flight attendants with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. But they decided to go public with their protests — both at DIA and at airports in Orlando and Chicago — on Thursday because they have not been able to get Frontier to offer salary terms that would put them above the level of pay they received before taking cuts in 2008, she said.

“With Frontier growing and being profitable, we didn’t expect to get such a low-ball offer,” Piller said in an interview. “The reason Frontier is a good airline is the employees. So, they have to give back to the employees, right?”

Frontier declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

“We’ll continue to work with our union leadership to ensure that both they and Frontier have a successful and secure future,” the privately-owned airline said in a statement through company spokesman Jim Faulkner.

But Piller noted that the reason flight attendants are seeking a pay boost now is because they worked so closely to help the airline when it was struggling in 2008 and 2011.

In 2008, the year that the airline filed for bankruptcy protection, flight attendants took a significant pay cut. Then in 2011, as former owner Republic Airways Holdings Inc. contemplated a possible sale or shutdown of the airline, flight attendants agreed not to take any pay raises that year, Piller said.

While they have received pay bumps since then, the average salary for attendants at the top of the pay scale is 8 percent less than what they making in 2008, primarily due to bankruptcy concessions, said Piller, who has worked for Frontier for 17 years. In negotiations, the union is seeking a 30 percent pay raise over the next five years — a raise that would bring them to the same level of pay as attendants will receive at that time at ultra-low-cost competitor Spirit Airlines (Nasdaq: SAVE).

“We are in a tremendous period of growth, so I think the company wants to keep us,” Piller said. “They have to pay us.”

Frontier last month began taking delivery of its new Airbus jets that will require larger crews to accommodate a greater amount of passengers. The airline has grown in recent years outside of Denver, where it’s attracting customers willing to forgo previously fee amenities such as seat selection and snacks in order to take advantage of its low fares.

Ed Sealover covers government, health care, tourism, airlines, hospitality and restaurants for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the "Capitol Business" blog. Phone: 303-803-9229.

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