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EXCLUSIVE-Virgin America flight attendants seek unionization vote

SEATTLE, May 20 (Reuters) - Flight attendants at Virgin America airlines are seeking a vote on whether to unionize, according to an official at the Transport Workers Union (TWU), in a move that could pave the way for organized labor's latest victory in the airline industry.

If the 850 flight attendants at Virgin America vote to form a union, it would be the first at the airline, and would further narrow the ranks of non-union U.S. carriers, after JetBlue pilots voted last month to organize.

The union has received signature cards from a majority of workers after a drive to organize was kicked off last July, said Thom McDaniel, a TWU international vice president. He declined to say how many.

Under labor rules, employees need to show support from 50 percent of their ranks, plus one, to file for an election.

"We have an overwhelming majority," McDaniel said. "It's not at 50 percent, it's way over that. We've got well more than we need."

The flight attendants are filing with the National Mediation Board, which could set an election for as early as two months from now, after allowing Virgin an opportunity to protest and authenticating the cards submitted by the workers.

Virgin America, which is based in Burlingame, California, near its San Francisco hub, declined comment.

The airline was founded in 2004 by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, began flying in 2007 and is majority owned by VAI Partners, with a minority stake owned by Virgin Group.

It has about 2,700 employees and significant operations in Los Angeles and at Dallas Love Field, where it recently won two gates. Virgin America flies a fleet of Airbus A320 jets.

In December 2011, Virgin America flight attendants rejected a bid to organize. The vote was held under rules that allowed an election even if fewer than half of workers signed cards showing support for a union.

The latest move by the Virgin America flight attendants comes after JetBlue's pilots in April certified the Air Line Pilots Association, ending non-union status of that airline. JetBlue flight attendants later said they are organizing under the TWU, Reuters reported.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Paul Simao)