Hundreds of Virgin Atlantic pilots threatened to strike Dec. 22-25, with further stoppages planned, to protest the airline’s refusal to recognize the union representing them.

Members of the Professional Pilots Union (PPU), representing more than a third of Virgin’s roughly 1,000-pilot force, have been seeking recognition by the UK long-haul specialist for two years.

“Virgin Atlantic has consistently refused to recognize the PPU, insisting on a one-union arrangement for pilots,” the union said in a statement. Virgin Atlantic negotiates with the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).

If the issue is not resolved, PPU plans further work stoppages from Dec. 30-Jan. 2 and Jan. 4-7.

“A small number of our pilots have voted for industrial action. Our absolute priority is to ensure that all of our customers can continue their journeys as planned this Christmas, and we’re working hard to protect all of their trips,” Virgin said in a statement.

PPU had been conducting a work-to-rule policy for two years to secure recognition by Virgin, but decided stronger action was needed after being shut out of negotiations concerning its 400-plus members, union spokesman and former Virgin pilot Steve Johnson said.

The negotiations revolved around a pilots’ benefits review aimed at redesigning the protections pilots have as part of their contracts, the PPU said. The protections hedge against loss of pay through long-term illness, enforced retirement from illness (11% of PPU pilots are on long-term job-related sick leave), death-in-service payments and surviving spouse pensions.

“It’s the last straw. Virgin Atlantic have consistently refused to recognize the PPU as a legitimate and independent union, essentially disenfranchising our members,” Johnson said.

“Despite the rhetoric that consultations are inclusive of all staff and unions, in practice this doesn’t happen. We hope that Virgin acknowledge the mandate our members have given us, and help avoid strike action by recognizing the PPU and halt the benefits review that is so damaging to our members’ long-term security.

“Our door is—and has always been—open to Virgin to take the necessary steps to prevent any disruption for Christmas travelers.”

There was a 72% turnout of members for the strike ballot, with 71.5% voting in favor, the union said.

Alan Dron, alandron@adepteditorial.com