Flight attendants to appeal narrow loss at Delta

WASHINGTON (PAI) – The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) will appeal its narrow loss in the union recognition vote at the “New Delta” airlines, saying its campaign fell victim to massive management intimidation and Delta’s use of computers to track workers’ votes, among other things.

In results announced Nov. 3, AFA-CWA received 8,778 votes, or 46.8 percent. of flight attendants at the carrier. The new Delta was formed in 2008 when red-state, virtually non-union, Delta devoured blue-state, wall-to-wall union, Northwest Airlines.

Some 20,000 flight attendants, 8,000 from Northwest, the rest from the old Delta, were eligible to vote.

“No union” received 9,544 votes (50.9%), while other unions not even in the race, including the Teamsters, Transport Workers and Machinists, got 249.

“Valid vote for representation,” with no union named, got 189.

The apparent loss was AFA-CWA’s third at “New Delta,” but the first under new election rules announced by the National Mediation Board (NMB), which governs airline labor-management relations. The new rules require unions to win a simple majority of those voting to obtain recognition for the leader among them (AFA-CWA in this case), rather than a “50 percent plus 1” majority of everyone in the bargaining unit.

“In the face of the largest anti-union campaign the nation has ever seen, Delta flight attendants came within 328 votes of having a union,” said retiring AFA-CWA President Pat Friend, referring to the combined 9,216 votes all the unions got. “The amount of intimidation was unprecedented.”

Union counsel Ed Gilmartin said AFA-CWA would file objections to the election with the NMB within two weeks, detailing not just intimidation by supervisors, personal letters, e-mails and other communications, but also Delta’s use of the computer system.

Relying on past testimony from Delta’s own computer expert, Gilmartin explained that Delta urged flight attendants to use its internal computer network, DeltaNet, which they must use to sign in for work, to vote. The flight attendant would sign in on DeltaNet, which was festooned with pop-ups subtly conveying the company’s line-and then use it to transfer to the NMB’s site for the electronic vote.

But since DeltaNet can also track an individual user’s preferences, Gilmartin said, there is the possibility that it can track an individual flight attendant’s votes – by registering the voter’s keystrokes.

Flight attendants speaking at the telephone press conference described more traditional forms of management intimidation found in anti-union campaigns. Friend noted those actions violate the “laboratory conditions” for the election that federal law requires and that Delta’s CEO promised.

The violations included one-on-one meetings, supervisors asking workers directly how they would vote, anti-union posters and notices “every 10 feet” in the flight lounges, and a campaign of intimidation “that crossed the line” the law draws, Friend said.

Gilmartin noted a precedent for NMB overturning the AFA-CWA vote at the “New Delta” and ordering an investigation into the labor law violations there, followed by a new election. He said the Machinists lost a vote among a small group of Delta’s flight simulator technicians in August and that they had also experienced many of the same management tactics. NMB has launched a probe of that vote, too, Gilmartin said. 

Photo: Union organizer Rev. Gregory Williams leads Delta Air Lines flight attendants in an attempt to deliver a letter to CEO Richard Anderson, Sept. 29, at the airline’s headquarters in Hapeville, Ga. Erik S. Lesser/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.