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JetBlue's "Refresh and Rejuvenate" Program Shows Commitment to Labor

I remember hearing former JetBlue CEO David Neeleman say early on that if his employees felt the need to unionize, then he had failed as a boss. On JetBlue's third quarter earnings call, CEO Dave Barger spoke about the Refresh and Rejuvenate (RNR) program that really shows the commitment to a good relationship between management and labor is still a top priority.

So what is this RNR program? It allows front line workers to take anywhere from one month to one year off from the company while still retaining benefits and the all-important seniority number. Why is JetBlue doing this? Well, they've dramatically reduced their growth and they don't need as many people anymore. But instead of furloughing employees, the airline is keeping true to its word to build trust with employees and is asking for voluntary leave. Apparently, it's been successful. Spokesman Sebastian White confirmed that they expect an average of about 50 pilots per month to be on this program for the next year. It has been offered to flight attendants as well.

Of course, when you still let people keep their benefits, it isn't as cheap as it could be to just furlough people. But JetBlue has decided not to run its business that way, and it is a very commendable policy. I'll let Dave Barger explain in his own words, as a response to a question from an analyst, Kevin Crissey, about the program:

When we started the airline back in 2000 and I certainly won't go into that long of a story. But I think we looked at what business models and what has driven failure if you will in the industry and the ability to create a model whereby you have trust in the organization, those delivering the products at the front lines, the senior executives at the airline building trust and just through integrity and honestly and quality of life and taking care of one another.

Now that translates into a better product, that translates into productivity, efficiency and I think there is a reason why we saw a 2% improvement in fuel burn on a year-over-year basis through working with our team. I think there is a reason why J.D. Power for the fourth year bestowed the best-in-class and so that is absolutely core, this relationship with our front line on a go forward basis.

Regarding a direct relationship, regarding unionized or non-unionized I think at the end of the day a direct relationship with our staff, so we're welcome in the cockpit and the break rooms and at crew member meetings, that is truly a differential as we take at look at not just our success today, but our plans in the future.

That is a very refreshing viewpoint in an industry that has rarely seen labor as a partner instead of an adversary.
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