The Association of Flight-Attendants-CWA announced on Friday that it is “putting its full resources” behind a new organizing drive at Delta Airlines. In a press release, AFA-CWA’s international president, Sara Nelson, said that her union had heard from “thousands” of Delta flight attendants. “Today, we’re excited to launch that campaign with 25,000 Delta Flight Attendants to gain a voice, respect and fairness on the job,” she added.
In the same press release, AFA says that although Delta makes double the profit of other airlines, a 2018 study produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims that “wages, benefits, and profit sharing on average lags United Airlines Flight Attendants by over $14,000 a year.” Among major U.S. airlines, Delta is an outlier: It’s the only one whose flight attendants aren’t unionized, a fact AFA is careful to note in its statement.
Flight attendants at Delta have been trying to organize for years, with no success. AFA has lost three elections at the company, most recently in 2010, when attendants voted 9,544 to 9,216 to reject a union. At the time, the union complained of “unprecedented intimidation” from Delta. In comments to Labor Notes, organizers said that the airline encouraged flight attendants to vote from their work computers, where they could be tracked, called workers at home, and bombarded them with inaccurate, anti-union talking points. That last tactic — misleading literature — isn’t so unusual for an anti-union campaign. But Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, took matters a step beyond normal. In a company meeting, Anderson called AFA “un-Christian” and “immoral,” Labor Notes reported. Delta mailed a DVD of the meeting to flight attendants.
In a statement to New York, Nelson said that she believes the situation at Delta has changed in ways that favor a new organizing drive. “Over 40 percent of the seniority list has been hired at Delta since the last union vote nine years ago,” she said. “The energy and excitement for our Flight Attendant union is palpable.”
AFA’s new drive is separate from a preexisting one organized by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. IAM has been organizing Delta flight attendants and ramp attendants since 2010, the year of AFA’s last loss, but has yet to hold an election. In a statement to the press, IAM criticized AFA’s organizing drive. “The IAM is deeply concerned and disappointed by CWA-AFA’s announcement of intended organizing activities at Delta Air Lines before the AFL CIO has resolved the organizing dispute that has been pending for approximately two years,” the union said. “The IAM Delta campaign is strong and ongoing. As more information regarding this matter becomes available, the IAM will make such information available to all Delta Flight Attendants.”
“This marks the AFA’s fourth attempt to organize at Delta, after flight attendants rejected their efforts during three previous elections since 2002,” Morgan Durrant, a spokesperson for Delta, told New York in a statement. “While we respect our flight attendants’ right to choose whether or not to support AFA representation, we feel that our direct partnership with Delta people plays a significant role in our award-winning culture and customer experience including our ability to respond and implement quickly to our flight attendants’ ideas and feedback.”
The airline’s anti-IAM campaign made national headlines in May, after literature began circulating on social media. One flyer urged workers to reject IAM because union dues are money they wouldn’t be able to spend on video games. IAM later filed a complaint with the National Mediation Board, and Democratic senators, including presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, condemned Delta’s tactics at the time. The primary race will likely continue to place added pressure on Delta, as candidates jockey for vital labor support in a crowded and competitive race.
This post has been updated to include a statement from IAM and Delta.