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Will 25k Organize at Delta?

Largest organizing drive in recent times test labor’s ability to deliver in this era of Trump

Kris LaGrange's picture
Nov 08, 2019

While most airlines’ flight attendants are organized in the United States, one giant in the airline industry, Delta Airlines, has successfully stopped their workers from having a voice at work.  This week that may have changed though as the AFA-CWA announced a major union drive at the airline.

According to the AFA, thousands of flight attendants at Delta have expressed an interest in joining the union and announced that the union would be heading to Atlanta, Delta’s hub, to meet with the workers. Some of the concerns that the employees have include being paid significantly less than other large “legacy” carriers like United. An MIT study found that Delta flight attendants made $14,000 less in 2018 than United flight attendants working the same amount of hours and on similar size routes. Overall this means that Delta spends about $100 million less than United in staff costs, despite having a similar-sized operation.

Beyond pay, Delta flight attendants are upset over the company’s inaction regarding a recent spate of health issues. The employees attribute these issues to a new uniform that that was introduced in 2019 and that they believe may be toxic. One flight attendant, who is not a leader in the union movement, told Business Insider that she is supporting the union because the process of reporting health effects from the uniform is arduous. She also said that it is difficult to get assistance from the company in regards to the uniform issue.

Rumors about a union drive at Delta are not new. The AFA have attempted to organize them four times, 2002, 2008, and now in 2019. Each of the previous organizing drives made it all the way to an election. Delta also likely knew this was coming. In May, the company came under fire for posting a series of posters that told employees to buy video games with their wages instead of paying union dues.

While a union at Delta definitely faces an uphill battle Sara Nelson, President of AFA, believes that there are a few factors that will make this time different. First, she believes that the influx of union flight attendants from Northwest Airlines will help. These flight attendants came over after the last organizing effort in 2010 and are said to have been talking up the benefits of being union. Nelson also believes the uniform issue was the final straw for many. Flight attendants are currently suing the makers of the uniforms, but are tied up in court and still getting sick.

"There's a large number of Delta flight attendants right now who are dealing with toxic uniforms who need the backing of a union to deal with this adequately," Nelson said. "People want to know that they have a strong voice, a strong union backing their health and safety on the job. The AFA has the resources to be able to deal with that. There's more to having union membership than just the provisions in the contract.”

To support the flight attendants in their union effort, the AFA has set up a website with information. They are also asking the public to share their graphics on social media with at #SelfiesForSolidarity.

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