Most airlines in the United States have union representation for their flight attendants. Delta Air Lines does not, currently. But there is an effort by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) to democratically change the employee-employer relationship.
Due to the Railway Labor Act that also applies to airline employment, the task before the flight attendants is challenging – namely, to send over 11,000 physical cards from individual flight attendants spread out over the Delta Air Lines network signed within a year to the National Labor Board. Once the National Labor Board verifies the cards, all Delta Air Lines flight attendants will get to vote whether to authorize the AFA to represent their interests. The AFA website for these unionization efforts is deltaafa.org.
Support from the Delta Pilots’ union
In a July 13, 2022 podcast episode, the Delta Pilots’ chapter of ALPA interviewed Sara Nelson to discuss the pilots’ support of flight attendant unionization. One of the issues was the perception that in contract negotiations, Delta management would play off the pilots’ collective bargaining versus the non-represented flight attendants. Another issue was, according to Sara Nelson, the perception that the airlines ran their finances to where aircraft orders, airport improvements, and stock buybacks were bigger priorities than employee compensation. For Sara Nelson, the point of AFA is to,
Demand that more come back to the workers and the customers for that matter. And we can get the public with us when we’re doing that together, we found the public looks to the flight attendants for leadership in the cabin… and we’ve been able to raise our profile on that.
Furthermore, Sara Nelson alleges in the podcast that if enough secret cards are signed and a secret vote to certify AFA as the Delta flight attendants’ bargaining agent takes place – Delta cannot withdraw any past amount of compensation such as paying for boarding or current wages. Furthermore, the AFA can bargain for more robust grievance and discipline policies. Nelson also reminded listeners that the AFA is able to bargain well with Congress for fair federal aid and regulation when necessary.
Hidden costs of no union representation
Delta AFA also held a town hall on the hidden costs of being nonunionized. At the October 26, 2021 virtual town hall, according to Dan Akens, an aviation economist who graduated from the London School of Economics, Delta Air Lines does not have a maximum or minimum scheduled hours a month. This is versus airlines represented by the AFA that do. In the words of Akens;
So if you look at how unfair that is to have infinity hours available in a month from each flight attendant, the company also guarantees flight attendants less minimum than other carriers. So on the one side when they want you to work, they can work as much as they want. On the other side, when you have to get a minimum guarantee, guess what Delta does. There’s no flight attendant voice here to you know, bargain for this.
Akens also prepared this slide about insurance offerings in the YouTube video:
The insurance offerings matter, especially short-term and long-term disability insurance. Worth noting flight attendants must be physically fit enough to be able to swim.
Akens also went over US Department of Transportation 2019 US airline salary data. The above charts illuminate where the relative average pay of Delta Air Lines’ flight attendants is versus their US airline peers plus their amount of work.
Sample arguments against unionization
For balance, the above YouTube video is also shared regarding a Delta Air Lines flight attendant’s perspective of dissent. It does appear Lori used to work for Spirit Airlines based on her comments collaborated by a July 11, 2022, Delta Air Lines statement.
The onefutureonedelta.com website by the Delta Air Lines corporation opposing the latest unionization effort was also reviewed. The corporation claims on that website that,
Backed by our culture of collaboration, flight attendants have delivered the Delta Difference for generations. You do it for each other and for our customers, and it’s why – from day one – our flight attendants deserve the industry-leading package of compensation, benefits, and flexible work rules Delta provides.
Furthermore, in an undated open letter to flight attendants co-signed by the Chief Customer Experience Officer, the Chief People Officer, the Senior Vice President for In-Flight Service, and two Vice Presidents for In-Flight Service Field Operations, an appeal was made that the airline’s “direct relationship” with flight attendants is a competitive advantage. Directly quoting from the undated letter:
Our people-first values, coupled with our agility and perseverance, are what define the Delta Difference. Our direct relationship accelerates it. While we aren’t perfect – no company is – we are always working together to be better and find the best way to keep climbing.
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Delta’s Flight Attendants have important economic and workplace decisions to make in the year ahead. Photo: Delta Air Lines
Ultimately, the decision to unionize is up to the flight attendant employees of Delta Air Lines alone. For the flight attendants, this is an economic and working conditions decision and one hopes they are able to do independent research on aviation websites as to other airlines’ working conditions.
Would you consider Simple Flying and this story a good resource to decide whether to unionize or not? Please be civil in our comments.