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Norse Atlantic reaches employment agreement with US flight attendant union

written by Hannah Dowling | May 31, 2021

New transatlantic airline Norse Atlantic, co-founded by an ex-Norwegian Air founder, will lease 12 ex-Norwegian Dreamliners

Norse Atlantic Airways, Norway’s newest trans-Atlantic low-cost airline, has come to an agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) to hire over 700 flight attendants in the US, ahead of its launch later this year.

The announcement comes after Norse Atlantic faced backlash in the US House of Representatives and from the Air Line Pilots Association over using similar tactics to Norwegian Air, such as registering itself in Ireland as opposed to Norway, in order to skirt around stringent labour laws in both Norway and the US.

The controversy has seen Norse Atlantic’s permit for US operations remain in limbo, however the airline’s latest pre-hire deal with the AFA could swing the Department of Transportation in favour of allowing the carrier to operate in the US.

According to the newly penned agreement, not only will Norse Atlantic hire over 700 US-based flight attendants, it has also agreed to fully unionise its US workforce once flight attendants demonstrate “majority interest” in representation by the AFA.

The agreement stipulates “industry-leading starting pay and job protections”, according to the union, as well as healthcare benefits and a 401k retirement savings plan.

Further, Norse has agreed to directly employ all its US cabin crew, rather than hiring them as contractors, and will work to maintain jobs in the US as well as protect against furloughs for flight attendants employed outside the US.

“This is what respect for workers and our unions looks like,” AFA president Sara Nelson said.

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Nelson alluded to a “similar long-haul, low-cost operation” in which AFA members successfully fought against efforts to classify cabin crew as contractors, in order to skirt some US labour laws.

“Norse management is taking a refreshing approach to labor relations and demonstrating that the success of a business starts with good jobs,” she said.

“We are thrilled to announce this historic agreement and we look forward to getting people to work as soon as possible.”

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Norse Atlantic chief executive Bjorn Tore Larsen said the airline is similarly thrilled to announce the agreement with the AFA, and is “proud to make clear from the start that our airline puts people first”.

“Travellers will gain a low-cost, long-haul option, but tickets will never be subsidised 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,” he said.

Larsen added: “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.”

Earlier, this year, World of Aviation reported that Bjorn Kjos, the founder and ex-CEO of troubled carrier Norwegian Air, revealed he had taken another shot at the budget trans-Atlantic market, in partnership with co-founder of OSM Aviation Bjorn Tore Larsen.

Together, the two have launched Norse Atlantic, in order to cash in on Norwegian Air’s exit from its famed long-haul budget trans-Atlantic routes.

The aviation veterans hope to begin operations by the end of this year, securing 12 ex-Norwegian Dreamliners to connect major US hubs, such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami, to European hotspots, including London, Paris and Oslo.

Shortly after Norse Atlantic applied for the necessary permits from the DOT, Representative Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urged the Biden administration to deny the airline’s request.

DeFazio argued that the new airline was “Norwegian in name only” and that the carrier “established itself in Ireland under a flag of convenience to avoid Norway’s strong labour protections”.

Notably, this is the same tactic once used before by Kjos for Norwegian Air, now undergoing bankruptcy proceedings in both Ireland and Norway.

In his call to deny the foreign air permit to Norse Atlantic, DeFazio argued that the Department of Transportation “imprudently issued” the same permit to Norwegian Air in 2016.

That decision ultimately resulted in a years-long fare war between US carriers and Norwegian over affordable routes between the US and Europe.

Kjos’ business partner Larsen continues to insist that Norse Atlantic has “no ties to existing or previous airlines”.

Larsen said Norse Atlantic will directly employ workers and “respect the rights of our employees to collectively bargain”.

Earlier this month, the world’s largest pilot’s union, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), had joined in those calls against the carrier using tactics to secure cheaper labour costs from other countries.

According to the ALPA, it will “vigorously oppose” Norse Atlantic’s attempt to secure US Department of Transportation permits to perform budget transatlantic routes, should the airline use “bait and switch” tactics to undermine local labour laws.

“I am highly skeptical of the latest business venture to be announced by Norse’s executives, who have spent years trying to game the system, skirt rigorous safety rules, and undermine workers’ rights,” said Captain Joe DePete, president of the ALPA International.

“ALPA remains strongly opposed to any efforts that erode fair labor standards and seek to gain a competitive advantage by dodging established international agreements.”

Norse Atlantic is yet to announce if it will be hiring US-based pilots.

The airline has said previously it will lease ex-Norwegian Air 787s to fly between Europe and the US, and intends to launch its first flights in December 2021.

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