Three Sun Country fleet employees have claimed the airline fired them in retaliation for their support of a union approved in January.

Sly Oliver, who had worked as a ramp agent for 15 months, said Sun Country terminated him in January as a "scare tactic" meant to make him an example for his active union support.

Sun Country, though, denied the allegations.

"While Sun Country does not comment on specific personnel matters, we want to be clear that we do not, and have not, fired employees for forming or supporting the formation of a union," said a spokeswoman for the growing Minneapolis-based leisure carrier in a statement.

Angel Cantu, an international representative for the Teamsters airline division, said the union, which doesn't yet have a contract with Sun Country, is exploring options for the employees he said were "very instrumental in helping organize that group to get better benefits, better pay and better work rules."

"It's just interesting they were the ones terminated at this point," Cantu said.

The fleet employees voted 46-32 in favor of forming a union, announced Jan. 3. Ballots went out in November to 205 eligible workers, including ramp agents and workers who load and unload planes. A simple majority of the returned ballots needed to vote yes for union approval.

Oliver, 42, said he was fired Jan. 21 after he escorted a Teamsters official around Sun Country's airport workspaces during his time off. Oliver said managers told him he was let go because he had brought an unauthorized person on the tarmac. However, Oliver said he had obtained an escort badge from airport police.

He said he started a job this week as a part-time Teamsters organizer and is in the final stages of getting hired at another airline.

A second worker, Monique Crisp, said Sun Country fired her Feb. 3 after a year as a ramp agent. She said a colleague had asked her to switch shifts but then failed to show up for the shift. Crisp said she didn't see the termination email and worked a half-day later that week before managers told her she was no longer employed because she'd missed too much work.

"I feel like they were looking for an opportunity to fire me," said Crisp, 42. She said she would like her job back and to continue her union advocacy.

The third worker, Anthony Tunstall, 55, was a ramp agent for a year and a half. Tunstall, who also has a job with a different airline, said he was fired on a day off after calling in sick for a medical emergency on Feb. 5.

He said he's never been a "no-call, no-show" type of employee and had planned to share documentation with Sun Country of the medical event.

Sun Country's mechanics also unionized recently, and the flight attendants are in negotiations. In 2021, the pilots approved a new contract with a significant pay increase.

Heading off a union after its approval but before signing a contract is a canny maneuver some companies use to thwart union efforts, said John Logan, a professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

Logan pointed to the battle between Seattle-based Starbucks and its employees attempting to unionize nationwide. In one instance, Starbucks fired several employees — dubbed the Memphis Seven — after they held an in-store media interview about their organizing efforts. Last year, however, a federal judge ordered their reinstatement.

But often, employees move on rather than fighting to get their jobs back, Logan said.

If the fired Sun Country employees want to reclaim their jobs or seek a sizable settlement, he said, they likely would have to go through a lengthy legal process starting under the Railway Labor Act. He said the effort could take months and require proving the company had singled them out.

"If it's very clear that any reasonable person would say, 'Well, you didn't enforce these rules before, but now that there's a union campaign, you're enforcing them,'" said Logan, " and ... you are enforcing them against the people most active in the union campaign,' that's very clearly evidence of unlawful, anti-union animus."

Bob Mann, an airline analyst in New York and former industry executive, said he sees the start of negotiations with a new union as a key transition moment. Both sides may have a tendency toward "militarization," he said.

"This is when it gets kind of prickly because to make any of these companies run, in my experience at least, you have to have a level of trust between the parties," Mann said.