Norway’s newest long haul transatlantic airline, which plans to begin flying in December, says it will take a different direction on labor relations.
Norse Atlantic Airways, the successor to controversial failed low-cost transatlantic carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle, said it wants to negotiate a contract with flight attendants before it starts flying. That represent a departure from Norwegian’s failed strategy of fighting its flight attendants.
After the carrier failed to convince the National Mediation Board that flight attendants were contractors, flight attendants voted to join the Association of Flight Attendants, which negotiated a contract.
This time, AFA and Norse Atlantic are starting out on the same page. They have scheduled contract negotiations for the week of May 24.
While AFA President Sara Nelson is willing to negotiate with Norse Atlantic, the Air Line Pilots Association is taking a more skeptical view.
“Norse will approach labor relations differently from the start,” said Bjorn Tore Larsen, Norse Atlantic’s founder and CEO, said last week in a press release issued jointly with AFA.
“A low-cost operation doesn’t mean workers shouldn’t have good jobs at the company,” Larsen said. “We will directly employ the staff of Norse and respect the rights of our employees to collectively bargain. Norse respects AFA as an outspoken advocate for the flight attendants’ rights.”
In the same press release, Nelson said, “My initial discussions with Mr. Larsen are encouraging. We believe Norse can provide good flight attendants jobs that respect labor rights in the U.S. and Europe as intended by the E.U.–U.S. Open Skies Agreement. We look forward to meeting later this month to attempt to codify these discussions with a legally binding contract.”
On March 4, the day following the press release, ALPA President Joe DePete declared, “We will vigorously oppose Norse’s attempt to obtain Department of Transportation approval to operate into the United States if its ‘brand new’ airline is just another bait-and-switch flag-of-convenience
“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,” DePete said. “ALPA remains strongly opposed to any efforts that erode fair labor standards and seek to gain a competitive advantage by dodging established international agreements.”
In an email, Nelson said, “We don’t disagree.”
AFA is “totally opposed to any start up that attempts to game the system,” Nelson said. “We’re working to nail down compliance with the rules that keep competition fair. I’m optimistic we can do that in the case of Norse.
“But there will be others and we have to fix this for the industry for the long haul,” she said.
Norse Atlantic announced in March that it plans to offer low-cost transatlantic service beginning in December, using Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Two Norwegian Air Shuttle units filed for bankruptcy protection in Norway in November, making NAS one of the highest profile victims of the pandemic.
But in April, Norwegian founders announced a comeback. “Norwegian Air Shuttle founder Bjorn Kjos is nothing if not determined,” Reuters wrote. “Only four months after the transatlantic budget carrier he once led slid into bankruptcy, Kjos is back at a new set of controls.”
Investors from Norwegian include Kjos, Bjorn Kise and Larsen. The carrier said destinations will include New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris and Oslo.
In 2017, U.S.-based Norwegian flight attendants voted to join AFA. “Norwegian has fought the Flight Attendants' right to organize and bargain a contract for nearly two years, but that stops now,” Nelson said at the time. “We will not allow Norwegian to pit crews against each other.” Norwegian had argued that a staffing company, founded by Larsen, employed its flight attendants.
In March 2020, the flight attendants ratified their first contract. But due to Covid 19, Norwegian’s long-haul operations were discontinued weeks later.
Norwegian had challenged key labor rights provisions of the E.U.-U.S. Open Skies Agreement, AFA joined with aviation unions in the U.S. and Europe to fight DOT approval of the permit to operate under an Irish air operator certificate in order to avoid the U.S. and E.U. labor laws and labor rights.
Both AFA and ALPA support a House bill, regarding flags of convenience, which Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, is expected to introduce on Tuesday.
This article originally appeared on Forbes