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Vol. 74/No. 44      November 22, 2010

Airline workers campaign
for unionization at Delta
(front page)
MINNEAPOLIS—In the first of four votes at Delta Airlines, the fight for a union among flight attendants narrowly lost. The vote was 9,216 for and 9,544 against. More than 93 percent of flight attendants from the combined workforces of Delta and Northwest Airlines voted in the election that ended November 3.

A day after the union loss at Delta, some 3,000 fleet and passenger service workers at Piedmont Airlines voted by a 2 to 1 margin to join the Communication Workers of America (CWA). The union won the election in spite of “Piedmont and parent company US Airways using every anti-union trick in the book,” said a statement from the CWA following the vote.

The next three votes at Delta will determine if workers are to be represented by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). About 14,000 fleet service (baggage and cargo) workers will be voting through November 18. Approximately 600 stock clerk and supply attendants are voting through November 22, and another 16,500 passenger service (ticket and reservation) agents are voting through December 7.

The IAM has been holding rallies at several hubs to counter the company’s antiunion campaign and to get out the union vote. With the defeat of the organizing drive by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), union members are stepping up their work.

In a phone interview, Marty Knaeble, a baggage handler at Delta Airlines from the Detroit area, said, “Since the flight attendants’ vote was so close, we need to make every effort to get workers to cast their vote for the union. The stakes are huge. We need the union to protect our livelihoods and jobs.”

Totaling more than 50,000 workers, the Delta union elections are the largest to take place in more than five decades in the United States.

The second biggest carrier in the country, Delta Airlines has been the least organized of the major airlines. In 2008 Delta’s largely nonunionized workforce merged with Northwest’s unionized workforce. Before the merger Delta had 33,915 nonunion workers compared to 16,723 union workers at Northwest.

This was the third time the flight attendants’ union has lost an election at Delta. However, unlike the previous votes this one was extremely close. It follows years of cuts and rule changes by the airlines that have deeply affected workers’ lives.

The election was the first in the airline industry where a union is recognized if a majority of the votes cast are in favor. In the past, workers in the airlines and on the railroads who didn’t vote were counted as “no” votes.

Delta and other airlines lobbied heavily against the ruling by the federal government’s National Mediation Board that went into effect in July, reversing the 70-year-old practice guiding union elections in those industries. Workers at airlines and railroads now vote under the same rules as workers at other companies. Under the old rules, the union victory at Piedmont would have been declared a defeat because 1,200 workers who didn’t vote would have automatically been counted as voting against the union.

As voting continues at Delta, organizing drives at smaller airlines have picked up in recent months. Flight attendants at Allegiant Airlines filed a petition in late October with the National Mediation Board asking for a union election for the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), which has also been organizing campaigns at Virgin Airways and JetBlue Airways.

Bloomberg News reported that the vote rejecting the union at Delta “may be nullified” by the National Mediation Board. The union may demand a revote or recount, in which votes cast from company computers would be nullified. The AFA has until November 12 to file interference charges against Delta.

“The flight attendant vote surprised me,” said Vern Hammarsten, a ramp worker at Delta here. “We need to show more resolve and organize to get out the vote. It’s crucial that we stay union.”
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