[Organizers started a union drive for flight attendants at Delta
last November. Uncertainty about the pandemic is stoking a desire
among workers for labor protections.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 THE CORONAVIRUS IS JUMP-STARTING UNION ORGANIZING AT DELTA  
[https://portside.org/2020-03-15/coronavirus-jump-starting-union-organizing-delta]


 

 Mike Elk 
 March 13, 2020
American Prospect
[https://prospect.org/labor/coronavirus-is-jump-starting-union-organizing-at-delta/]


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 _ Organizers started a union drive for flight attendants at Delta
last November. Uncertainty about the pandemic is stoking a desire
among workers for labor protections. _ 

 Passengers wait in front of the Delta desk at Charles de Gaulle
airport, north of Paris, March 12, 2020. President Trump has announced
a ban on flights to the U.S. from continental Europe beginning
Friday., THIBAULT CAMUS/AP PHOTO 

 

For more than a decade, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has
struggled to organize flight attendants at Delta, the largest
non-union airline in the country. Now, the spread of the coronavirus
is giving new energy to what has long seemed an impossible task.

“There has been an uptick in interest in the campaign due to
coronavirus. Flight attendants have started comparing other
airlines’ responses to safety and employment concerns with our
company’s own responses, or lack thereof,” said one flight
attendant, “Cheryl,” who recently returned from a country with a
major coronavirus outbreak and declined to give her real name out of
fear of retaliation.

With over 25,000 flight attendants employed at Delta, a win there
would be one of the largest union victories in decades. It would open
the door to massive unionizing in the South, where Delta is based, as
well as throughout the transportation industry.

The increase in union organizing interest at Delta could also be a
sign that, in the age of global pandemics like the coronavirus, more
workers will be looking to unions to protect them in scary, turbulent
times.

“Calls to sign an authorization card have increased in just a few
days. I’ve given out several union pins today alone,” says Cheryl,
who added that she has never seen union interest from flight
attendants grow so quickly.

Since 2002, AFA has failed in three separate attempts to unionize at
Delta. In its most recent effort in 2010, after Delta merged with
unionized Northwest Airlines, many pro-union flight attendants were
optimistic about victory. However, AFA lost the union election 9,544
to 9,216, a margin of only 328 votes in an election marked by
allegations of illegal intimidation. Delta has denied those
allegations.

In November of last year, AFA launched a new campaign to unionize
Delta flight attendants, hoping that a drive would be successful this
time, with union approval at all-time highs.

The union was making steady progress through the winter. However,
Delta was able to dissuade some workers by making changes to its
policies.

Delta expanded break time between flights and gave workers more
flexibility in their assignments. The airline even got rid of the
polyester-blend uniforms, which flight attendants had been complaining
had been making them sick for more than a year.

However, many flight attendants say that Delta similarly made
improvements before the last union election in 2010, only to revert
back to old practices once the union threat faded.

Now, with airlines canceling thousands of flights, threats of layoffs
looming, and flight attendants forced to work in potentially hazardous
situations, union activists at Delta report that they see a massive
spike in interest in the union. The coronavirus is serving as a
wake-up call to many flight attendants scared about their futures.

“I have not seen interest this high. Not even after the merger with
[Northwest] who was already represented by AFA at the time, or during
the recession or the Ebola scare of 2014,” says Cheryl, who has
worked at the airline for more than a decade. “The threat of
involuntary furloughs and layoffs has been a big motivator. We are
scared and freaking out because we don’t have any language in our
policies for this.”

“Flight attendants are on the front line of this disease, and we
don’t have the option of staying home.”

Unlike other airlines, where flight attendants have union contracts,
many flight attendants at Delta feel at the mercy of the company.

“Protection is the word on the street I keep hearing. We need
protection. We need to protect ourselves. We need a contract for
protection,” says Cheryl.

“Someone posted United’s contract language regarding leaves and
furloughs in a Facebook group, and many of the responses were flight
attendants wishing we had a contract so we could at least stop the
speculation and rumors,” she adds. “It would help so much to have
even the most basic language covering steps in a crisis like this.”

Despite Delta not having a union yet, the Association of Flight
Attendants is already fighting for non-union flight attendants. AFA
President Sara Nelson has been all over television, calling on airline
companies and federal authorities to protect airline workers.

“Flight attendants are on the front line of this disease, and we
don’t have the option of staying home,” Nelson said on MSNBC on
Tuesday.

Flight attendants say that high-profile advocacy is making a
difference.

“It’s helping a lot to show that, even though we don’t have a
union, we can still advocate for changes in the press that affect our
lives,” says a flight attendant named “Tom,” who also declined
to give his real name out of fear of retaliation.

“We aren’t happy about any of the crises that have happened
lately—uniform debacle, coronavirus—but we are going to use every
opportunity to organize,” says Cheryl.

MIKE ELK [https://prospect.org/topics/mike-elk/]

Mike Elk is the founder of PaydayReport.com and winner of the Sidney
Award.

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