Why Did Delta's Flight Attendants Reject Union?

Question: Why Did Delta's Flight Attendants Reject Union?

In a big victory for management in 2010, Delta Air Line's nearly 20,000 flight attendants turned down a bid to unionize. As employees of smaller carriers have become more unionized, why would Delta's flight attendants say no to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA)?


Answer: Delta management officials and many flight attendants say that a union could hurt their corporate culture. 


This is not the first time Association of Flight Attendants has attempted to organize Delta's flight attendants, and it's not the first time the organization has failed. Previous votes took place in 2002 and 2008.

This year's vote is viewed as the most significant rejection, because it included about 7,000 unionized flight attendants form the former Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta in 2008.

The final vote was close: 9,544 flight attendants voted against the union, and 9,216 in favor.

The short explanation for the result, according to those who rejected the union, is that Delta flight attendants already secured higher pay and superior benefits without a union, so there was no reason to become unionized.

Predictably, AFA rejects that idea, saying flight attendants endured an "unprecedented" level of intimidation by Delta's management team and others, and has asked for a new vote and a federal investigation.

 Flight attendants could vote from company computers, which union representatives said could lead to Delta tracking how employees voted. A Delta spokeswoman called that claim "ridiculous."

Northwest workers were far more unionized than their Delta counterparts at the time of the merger, but Delta seemed to have better relations with its workers, with relatively little unionization.

Delta management officials say that a union could harm their corporate culture, where they focus on direct talks with employees. 

In a message to flight attendants, Delta executives say the vote will lead to pay parity, a unified seniority list, and other changes that will benefit former Northwest flight attendants.

With challenges to the vote, those changes may take several months to happen.

Labor and management will now keep a close eye on the union vote for almost 14,000 baggage handlers which ends this month, and for more than 16,000 reservations and customer service agents who vote through early December. Earlier this year, a federal law was changed, making it easier for airline employees to unionize.