RESTON, Va. - There's an old song entitled "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," that the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wants to change to "When Irish Flight Attendants Are Smiling."
That's because the union filed on Jan. 6 with the National Mediation Board - which oversees labor-management relations on airlines and railroads - for a recognition election among the 53 U.S.-based flight attendants of Aer Lingus, Ireland's national airline. All are based at Washington's Dulles Airport.
If approved, the election would be held in March, AFA-CWA spokeswoman Corey Caldwell added. The vote will be electronic "but it would be great" if the union won "by St. Patrick's Day."
Under current federal rules, AFA-CWA needs only a majority of those voting - not a majority of all 53 eligible voters - to win. The House GOP majority is trying to force airline and rail unions to win absolute majorities among all workers, with non-voters counted as "no" votes.
The U.S.-based flight attendants were left out when United and Aer Lingus, both of which have unionized flight attendants, started a code-sharing program in 2009, Caldwell said. That also deprived the Aer Lingus U.S. flight attendants of union-based job protections and particularly of AFA-CWA's emphasis on cabin safety for attendants.
The two carriers "sort of rammed" their arrangement through, leaving the Dulles-based flight attendants out in the cold, she added.
"The U.S. based Flight Attendants working for Aer Lingus perform the same essential first responder duties as their Irish counterparts and 25,000 United flight attendants, without the same pay, benefits, and work rule protections afforded by a legally binding contract," AFA-CWA President Veda Shook said when she announced the union's filing with the board.
Shook said management at the two carriers "dreamed up this joint venture for the sole purpose of avoiding legal obligations of a labor model and the U.S.-based Aer Lingus flight attendants are making that clear by calling for an election."
"Our Irish-based flying partners have been happily unionized for many years and the collaborative worker/management relationship is a benefit for everyone. We, 'Unite Aer Lingus IAD,' look forward to the same benefits: Collaborating on improvements that will benefit our airline and Aer Lingus flight attendants," the Aer Lingus attendants said.
Photo: An Aer Lingus jet landing at Dublin Airport, Ireland. Haydn West, PA/AP