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JetBlue pilots file to organize airline’s first union

Pilots at JetBlue Airways Corp. have filed a petition to establish an independent union, becoming the first group of employees at the Forest Hills-based discount carrier to organize.

Pilots at JetBlue Airways Corp. have filed a petition to establish an independent union, becoming the first group of employees at the Forest Hills-based discount carrier to organize.

JetBlue is the largest carrier in the nation without any organized labor groups.

In an announcement on its Web site Wednesday night, the JetBlue Pilots Association said it has filed papers with the National Mediation Board for the right to bargain for 2,000 workers.

Michael Sorbie, a JetBlue captain, said in a statement that the union would provide carrier protection for the airline’s pilots. “We have complete faith in our current company leadership and believe that this will be a cooperative effort,” Sorbie’s statement said. “As our airline matures, we want to ensure that the career expectations of our pilots will remain intact regardless of organizational changes.”

Sorbie could not immediately be reached for comment, and JetBlue officials were unavailable early Thursday morning.

But Bloomberg News quoted JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin as saying “We believe a direct relationship with the company is in our pilots’ best interest.”

JetBlue, the largest operator at Kennedy Airport, began operations in 2000. It has about 9,398 employees. The JetBlue Pilots Association said it had notified company executives and directors before filing the petition.

“We welcome the opportunity to communicate concerns through a voice that is supported by the lawful process of the Railway Labor Act,” the pilots’ association said. “This process also provides a stability and cost certainty that will be beneficial to our company as we grow into the future.”

“Our desire to seek formal recognition underscores our need to have a relationship based not only on the benevolence of a leadership team that could transition at any time, but on a relationship where there exists a means to resolve our private discourses under the support of legal process,” Sorbie said.

The association said that the National Mediation Board soon will begin the steps toward a request for an election and representation authorization. JetBlue Pilots Association leaders are proposing an independent organization and are not seeking association with any third party national union.

Like all other airlines, JetBlue has struggled with soaring fuel costs and intense industry competition. It has so far avoided attempts by employees to unionize. In 2006, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers failed to organize baggage handlers.