ATLANTA The vote among Delta Air Lines flight attendants on whether to unionize is being closely watched throughout the airline industry.
As the conclusion of voting nears Wednesday, "all eyes are on Atlanta," said Samantha Tate, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants.
An association spokesman said the campaign is the largest organizing effort in Georgia history. "We're bringing in people from all over the country" to lobby Delta flight attendants in the last few days of the campaign, said John Cornelius, the association's Delta campaign coordinator in Atlanta.
With Delta working toward its proposed merger with Northwest Airlines, union organizers said one of their biggest concerns would arise if Delta decided to "outsource" flight attendant work to foreign national flight attendants.
Delta employs foreign nationals with U.S. work permits that are based in Atlanta, but said it does not plan to outsource flight-attendant jobs. The airline has about 13,000 flight attendants.
"This is just a scare tactic at the end of the campaign" by the Association of Flight Attendants, said Mike Campbell, Delta's executive vice president of human resources, labor and communications.
Other carriers hire foreign nationals, including Northwest, and restrict them to certain areas, such as within Asia.
If Delta decided to outsource the jobs of flight attendants, "it wouldn't just affect Delta itself, but the entire airline industry," Delta flight attendant Mara Levene said Friday.
The fear is that other airlines may consider similar moves.
Union organizers point to Northwest's proposal to replace some flight attendants on its international flights with non-U.S. flight attendants to cut costs while it was in bankruptcy more than two years ago. Northwest later backed away from the plan. Association of Flight Attendants-CWA international president Patricia Friend said in testimony before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on May 7 that the merger "may resurrect efforts" by Northwest.
"We're afraid of that," said Cornelius.
Industrial relations consultant Les Hough, former director of Georgia State University's Usery Center for the Workplace, said the union's concerns come because "there is almost unquestionably an air of uncertainty of what the merger itself will portend for existing employees."