ATLANTA Delta Air Lines Inc. has told flight attendants they'd be better off if they didn't unionize, a month before they begin voting whether to become the second major work group at the carrier to be represented by a union.
The Atlanta-based company said in a statement Tuesday that it has received notification from the National Mediation Board that the voting period for a union election among Delta's flight attendants has been scheduled for April 23 to June 3.
More than 50 percent of all Delta flight attendants must vote for union representation for the proposal to pass. If the vote is successful, Delta's 12,000 active flight attendants would be represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
A similar effort in late 2001 was rejected in election results announced on Feb. 1, 2002.
More than 55,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines are members of the AFA-CWA. The AFA is part of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America.
AFA-CWA represents the roughly 8,000 flight attendants who work for Northwest Airlines Corp., based in Eagan, Minn. Delta and Northwest have discussed a combination of the two airlines, but in recent weeks hopes of a successful merger have dimmed because their pilots have been unable to agree on how to integrate their seniority lists.
Currently, the only major work group at Delta to be represented by a union is its pilots.
In addition to the flight attendants' efforts to unionize, a group of Delta ramp workers for the past 1 1/2 years has been collecting signatures to petition the National Mediation Board for a union election. Ramp workers load and unload freight, bags and mail below a plane's wings.
Bruce Church, a Salt Lake-based ramp worker who is involved in organizing the workers, has said that the group is not revealing the number of signatures it has collected thus far, for fear the company will pressure employees against unionizing.
The employees keep a Web log at www.deltaramp.blogspot.com.
As for the flight attendants, Joanne Smith, senior vice president of in-flight service and global product development, said in a statement Tuesday that the company believes having a direct relationship with its flight attendants is better for the employees and the airline.
"The facts are: Delta flight attendants have it better than what the Association of Flight Attendants has been able to deliver at other airlines, and those airlines' contracts are not open to changes for several years to come years in which Delta flight attendants will continue to enjoy higher rates of pay, a better profit sharing program and a better performance rewards program," Smith said.
As Delta has downsized over the last seven years, it has announced several rounds of job and pay cuts. In each case, it has been able to impose those cuts on its nonunion workers more swiftly than its unionized pilots, who have a contract with the company, the nation's third-largest carrier.
The company did get two rounds of hefty pay cuts in recent years from its pilots, but it was only able to do so by agreement with the union and a vote by its members.
Delta has noted that despite the pilot contract, it has still been able to furlough, or idle, pilots when service cuts reduce the need for some flying, and the same thing could happen to flight attendants even if they join a union.
Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said the airline throughout its history has always taken into account employee concerns whether they are part of a union or not. She also said the company's ability to act swiftly in making changes has been better for the airline.
An AFA-CWA spokeswoman, Corey Caldwell, said Smith's statement is "typical anti-union rhetoric that companies use."
"The truth is when there is a union on property, there's just as much communication with management as there was before," Caldwell said. "The only thing that changes is this time the flight attendants get to determine the issues and policies that affect them as a group, instead of being dependent on the company to make decisions for them."Caldwell said more than 50 percent of Delta flight attendants filed cards seeking a union representation election.
Contributing: Laura Hancock, Deseret Morning News.