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Exclusive: Virgin America flight attendants to hold union vote

By Alwyn Scott

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Flight attendants at Virgin America are due to begin voting next month on whether to join a union, which would be the first at the California-based airline.

The balloting by about 850 eligible flight attendants on whether to be represented by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) is due to begin July 16 and run through Aug. 16, the union and the National Mediation Board said on Wednesday.

Virgin America remains the last non-union airline among U.S. carriers after JetBlue pilots voted in April to organize.

Virgin America said it respected the flight attendants' rights and union election process. But it said the airline's success was largely due to employees working together to "make flying good again" and "a third-party, like the TWU, would only detract from that."

It noted that the flight attendants previously rejected TWU representation. "We're confident we'll see a similar result this time," spokeswoman Jennifer Thomas said in an email.

The prior attempt at organizing flight attendants at the Burlingame, California-based airline failed in December 2011. The TWU said the flight attendants are concerned about pay rates, work rules that don't provide pay for extended flight delays and disciplinary procedures.

"They have no recourse in disciplinary matters and that can cause them to be terminated for little or no reason," said Thom McDaniel, a TWU international vice president.

Virgin America uses San Francisco as its hub and has won numerous awards for service and amenities.

For the last two years it has ranked first among U.S. airlines in the annual national Airline Quality Rating performance study published by researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. JetBlue Airways Corp has ranked second the past two years.

Virgin America is majority owned by VAIPartners LLC, Delaware-based company, with a minority stake held by Virgin Group, the privately held conglomerate founded by entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Branson started the airline in 2004, and it began flying in 2007.

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