(CLEVELAND) – A group of jet pilots filed a lawsuit Friday against airline Flexjet, LLC and OneSky, its Cleveland-based parent company, claiming they were illegally harassed and terminated for speaking out in favor of unionization and better working conditions. Flexjet, LLC employs over 350 pilots who operate luxury business jets for wealthy customers. The pilots are seeking representation from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Airline Division, which represents over 80,000 workers in the aviation industry.
“Flexjet and OneSky terminated these hard-working pilots because they exercised their rights to encourage coworkers to support unionization,” Teamsters Airline Division International Representative Capt. Frederick C. Dubinsky said. “It is a blatant case of anti-union discrimination. The reasons management gave for firing these pilots are not only false, they’re bizarre and should be of grave concern to pilots and their passengers.”
All three of the fired pilots in the suit had spotless employment records and had previously publicly identified themselves as union supporters.
According to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on Friday, senior managers told several pilots they were fired because they were “unhappy” and the carrier would not tolerate unhappy employees. When the pilots said they were not unhappy, they were stripped of their employee identification badges and told to resign in 24 hours or be terminated.
Another pro-union pilot was terminated for “insubordination” because he refused to speak about union issues on the telephone with Flexjet Chairman Kenn Ricci. Ricci had also demanded that the terminated pilots debate him about unions in a public forum without any union representatives present.
In a series of letters, Ricci has repeatedly chastised the pilots for exercising their federal right to refrain from discussion unionization directly with him – the Chairman of the Board. This is not the first time Ricci has allegedly unlawfully fired union supporters in an effort to crush union activity. In the early 2000s he fired a number of Travel Air pilot union organizers for anti-union reasons and was similarly embroiled in a federal lawsuit for years, which the company settled out of court.
“Every worker should be able to trust that ownership and management will adhere to basic standards of fair play and consistency,” said Airline Division Director Capt. David Bourne. “Flexjet and OneSky’s decision to terminate these pilots for false and unlawful reasons introduces a level of uncertainty and arbitrariness into the workplace to which no one should be subjected.”
Many Flexjet pilots are providing financial assistance to their terminated co-workers and their families.
The lawsuit claims the carrier and its parent company committed multiple violations of the Railway Labor Act, the federal law that governs labor relations in the airline and railroad industries, and Ohio state law. The pilots are seeking immediate re-instatement, back pay, attorneys’ fees, a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting further interference with pilots’ right to unionize, and other relief. The lawsuit also alleges that Flexjet forced all pilots to sign “Yellow Dog” contracts, which terminate their employment agreements if they become represented by a union. Such “Yellow Dog” contracts have been unlawful in the United States since 1932.
“The Flexjet pilots and the Teamsters are united like never before, and we aren’t backing down. Our campaign for unionization has also become a fight to protect the operation from an ownership and management group that has lost its focus on stable operations,” Capt. Bourne said.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico including more than 80,000 workers throughout the airline industry in every craft and class. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.