• Judge rejects flight attendants’ ‘promotion’ claim
• Says only ‘assigned’ senior role if 50+ passengers
• ‘Proper path is to lobby with union’ for revised terms
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
EIGHT Bahamasair senior flight attendants have been told by a Supreme Court judge to seek the 10 percent pay increase they are demanding through a revised industrial agreement instead of litigation.
Justice Indra Charles, in an August 16, 2021, verdict rejected the joint claim by Niquel Pinder, Sharmaine Barr, Tiffany Reid, Karen Cooper, Carla Sabala, Kendra Campbell-Darling, Cecilia Forbes-Jordan and Nedra Rogers that their employment contracts were breached because they did not receive a 10 percent salary raise when they were made senior flight attendants.
However, Justice Charles found there was “no promotion” from junior to senior flight attendant allowed for in the wording of the 2013 industrial agreement between Bahamasair and the Airport, Airline and Allied Workers Union (AAAWU), of which all eight were members.
And the designation of “senior flight attendant” only arose, according to the agreement, when two or more worked the same jet flight or an ATR flight carrying 50 or more passengers.
Justice Charles added that the industrial agreement’s language confirmed that a flight attendant was “assigned”, and not promoted, to a senior position and was thus not entitled to the salary increase being sought.
“If the plaintiffs are desirous of changing the present position, the proper procedure is to lobby with their union to negotiate a new industrial agreement with Bahamasair,” she ruled, finding in favour of the Government’s cash-strapped national flag carrier.
Setting out the background to her verdict, Justice Charles said the eight were upgraded to senior flight attendants via letters received on June 30, 2017, after they applied for this designation.
They subsequently completed their training under the Cabin Attendant Manual and, on April 18, 2018, a letter was sent to Tracy Cooper, Bahamasair’s managing director, and other airline executives requesting that the eight receive extra compensation inn accordance with the industrial agreement’s article 11.06.04 that dealt with promotions.
Selvin Basden, Bahamasair’s director of human resources, replied to Jewel Fountain, the union president, on May 8, 2018, saying that while management was open to providing the 10 percent increase “we see the situation as more complicated as the decision to apply the same has far-reaching implications”.
He added: “A review of our payroll files has shown that for the past 22 years we have not paid promotional adjustments for persons being reassigned as senior cabin attendants, but rather they receive access to senior pay. To make this change now seems irresponsible especially with the industrial agreement expiring in less than two months.”
The flight attendants alleged they were entitled to the 10 percent salary increase based on the industrial agreement stating “that whenever an employee is promoted, he/ she shall be compensated at a rate of not less than the minimal salary of that or higher rated compensation or ten percent”. They were, though, were unable to produce any evidence they had been hired as junior staff.
Tamara Lightbourne, Bahamasair’s senior manager of human resources, told the Supreme Court that the eight were hired as flight attendants - not junior flight attendants.
She added that the industrial agreement’s article 11.06.04 clause, upon which they were relying, did not apply to flight attendants because there were no classifications and salary scales for that post.
And Ms Lightbourne added that the industrial agreement dealt with flight attendants separately from all other Bahamasair employees because of the nature of the job. For regulatory purposes, she said the national flag carrier and all airlines have to fly with a designated “senior flight attendant” when there are more than 50 passengers on a plane.
“Bahamasair denied that the plaintiffs were promoted and averred that the plaintiffs were merely given the designation of senior flight attendants and, as such, they are not entitled to an increase in salary,” Justice Charles said, summing up the airline’s case.
“They say that a senior flight attendant generally performs the same duties and responsibilities as a flight attendant. However, when a senior flight attendant acts in the capacity as a lead flight attendant, which is considered a senior position, on a jet or an ATR 72 flight where there are 50 or more passengers, the senior flight attendant is paid a stipend of either $12 or $15 per flight hour for the performance of the additional duties.
“Accordingly, Bahamasair does not consider such a designation as a lead flight attendant or a senior flight attendant a promotion.”
Wayne Munroe QC, the PLP’s candidate for Freetown who represented the flight attendants, argued the case that “senior flight attendant” status was a promotion based on the extra training his clients underwent and the fact they held seniority over other workers.
However, Lakeisha Hanna, of the Harry B Sands & Lobosky law firm, argued that the industrial agreement provisions relied upon by Mr Munroe and his clients did not apply to flight attendants. They had employment terms and conditions different from all other categories of Bahamasair employee.
Flight attendants at the time also only had one salary scale ranging from $15,597 to $32,397, with increments of $600. “It is also clear to me that the plaintiffs were not promoted but, whenever they are serving on a Jet or an ATR-72 flight carrying 50 or more passengers, they are designated ‘senior flight attendants’ in name only and are only entitled to the stipend to compensate them when they work in that capacity,” Justice Charles found.
The industrial agreement also stated that a flight attendant is “merely assigned”, and not promoted, to work as a senior flight attendant. “To my mind, if it were the intention of the union and Bahamasair for the plaintiffs to receive a promotion when they performed the duties of a senior flight attendant, then a terminology other than the word ‘assigned to work’ would have been used,” Justice Charles concluded.
“For all of the reasons stated above, I therefore find that the plaintiffs were not promoted to senior flight attendants and are therefore not entitled to a 10 percent increase in pay.”
Justice Charles also rejected claims that the eight held managerial or supervisory positions “because they did not have the authority to hire, lay off, promote, transfer or exercise disciplinary power over - or to adjust the grievance of other flight attendants - on behalf of and independently of Bahamasair”.