The nascent discount transatlantic carrier Norse Atlantic Airways has reached a pre-hire agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA).
The agreement is likely to alleviate concerns that Norse Atlantic will take the same tough posture toward labor that the former low-cost transatlantic carrier Norwegian Air did.
"We are thrilled to reach this agreement with AFA and proud to make clear from the start that our airline puts people first," Norse Atlantic CEO Bjorn Tore Larsen said in a press release put out by AFA. "Travelers will gain a low-cost, long-haul option, but tickets will never be subsidized 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."
Norse hasn't announced any specific routes, but the carrier has said it is targeting a December launch, flying between European destinations such as London, Paris and Oslo and U.S. destinations such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
A different labor model from Norwegian Air?
Larsen asserts that Norse has no connection to Norwegian Air. However, the carrier's Norway roots, planned ultralow-cost business model, the fact that Larsen is co-founder of a company that used to provide flight crews for Norwegian and the fact that former Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos holds a small (approximately 2%) ownership stake in the company raised hackles at both the AFA and the Air Line Pilots Association union.
Between early 2014 and late 2016, U.S. airline industry labor unions joined American, Delta and United in a protracted fight against Norwegian Air Group's application to operate flights to the U.S. through an Ireland-based entity called Norwegian Air International (NAI). NAI eventually was awarded a foreign air carrier permit by the DOT in December 2016.
By then, Norwegian was already operating U.S. flights under the permit that had been granted to its Norway-based subsidiary, Norwegian Air Shuttle. Unions accused the company of deploying the Ireland-based subsidiary in order to take advantage of labor laws that are weaker than those of Norway. The lax Irish regulations, they said, enabled Norwegian to use a Singapore-based agency to hire employees on short-term, low-wage contracts
Under the agreement reached by Norse and the AFA, flight attendants hired by Norse would have industry-leading starting pay and job protection, healthcare and 401k plans among other benefits, the union said.
The agreement must still be ratified, which can only happen once flight attendants who are eventually hired by Norse vote to join the AFA.
The union said Norse expects to create at least 700 flight attendant jobs in the U.S.
"Norse management is taking a refreshing approach to labor relations and demonstrating that the success of a business starts with good jobs," AFA president Sara Nelson said in a prepared statement. "We are thrilled to announce this historic agreement and we look forward to getting people to work as soon as possible."
Larsen suggested the agreement should help speed Norse Atlantic's launch.
"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," he said.