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Spirit flight attendants files suit against airline for healthcare benefits discrimination

Jan 13, 2013 5:00 am

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Spirit Airlines Airbus A319-100 at Southwest Florida International Airport. Daniel Betts / Flickr.com


A new battle is brewing between Miramar-based Spirit Airlines and its unionized flight attendants.

Last month, the flight attendants filed a lawsuit against the low-cost carrier, which alleges it is denying equal health-care benefits to their legally recognized domestic partners, the group’s union Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said in a statement Friday.

The health-care discrimination suit further alleges that flight attendants seeking this type of health insurance coverage are being forced into a lesser quality plan because the airline is “exploiting procedural loopholes,” to avoid its obligation.

The flight attendants say that obligation, as outlined in their collective bargaining agreement or contract, requires Spirit to provide the same benefits to legally recognized domestic partners that are open to married couples.

“We are outraged that management refuses to treat the families of their employees equally,” said AFA President at Spirit Todd St. Pierre, who is based in South Florida. “Flight attendants worked hard to ensure that these rights were included in our legally binding contract so that we could provide health care security for our loved ones.”

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, according to court papers.

Spirit was subsequently served notice of the action in Michigan and Miramar, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

The AFA said it filed a grievance in July after Spirit management violated the terms of the contract by denying legally recognized domestic partners to participate in various company health-care plans. It also said Spirit continues to discriminate against flight attendants on this matter in spite of an impartial arbitrator’s ruling in their favor.

“We do not comment on pending litigation, but the company does not agree with AFA’s characterization of the issue,” Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson said in a statement.

Spirit and its nearly 700 flight attendants have been at odds in recent years over negotiations for what they call a “fair contract.”

In November, just days before the busy Thanksgiving travel period, the flight attendants staged rallies at four airports nationwide, including in Fort Lauderdale and Detroit, to protest the slow pace of talks.

The parties have been negotiating since 2007 and negotiations are now supervised by the National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C.

In March 2012, the AFA asked the mediation agency to declare negotiations at an impasse, which is necessary to trigger a 30-day cooling off period that would produce intense negotiations resulting in an agreement or strike.

That ‘impasse’ decision is still pending, an AFA representative said this week.

In October 2011, Spirit flight attendants voted to authorize a strike should contract negotiations with management hit a wall.

asatchell@tribune.com, 954-356-4209 or Twitter@TheSatchreport. ___

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