Drawing closer to union elections, Delta workers plan April 4 rally

Delta Air Lines is the world’s second-largest carrier and a highly profitable corporation, but its 40,000 baggage handlers and flight attendants do not have a union on the job. Not yet, anyway.

Both groups of Delta employees are organizing with the International Association of Machinists, and the union plans an April 4 rally in St. Paul to show labor and community support for the workers’ organizing drive.

“Delta uses all their friends and allies to defeat unions,” former Delta baggage handler and longtime union activist Kip Hedges said. “We must do the same to win union representation.”

Delta, headquartered in the anti-union South, has a shameful track record of union avoidance going back 80 years. After acquiring Twin Cities-based Northwest Airlines in 2008, Delta management won a series of narrow workplace elections that shed the company of most collective bargaining agreements.

In the fall of 2010, flight attendants voted 51 percent to 49 percent against union representation with the Communications Workers of America. Baggage handlers and passenger service representatives rejected Machinists representation by similarly narrow margins.

Both the CWA and Machinists accused Delta of running an illegal campaign to intimidate and harass its employees into voting “no” – bribing workers, monitoring them with surveillance and meddling in the secret-ballot process. Just weeks before voting began, Delta distributed “bonuses” to non-union staff – a final nail in the coffin for the union drive.

Hedges said the company is up to its old tricks again.

“Workers face a Delta management team that is entrenched in its opposition to unionization and proud of their 80-year record as a non-union carrier,” he said. “Delta regularly tries to narrow the ability of rank and file organizers to reach their coworkers through intimidation and rules that flirt with the edge of federal law.”

Still, Hedges reported a “sharp uptick” in the number of Delta workers signing union cards, a trend driven by “ever-harsher working conditions.” And despite record returns, Delta scaled back its profit-sharing initiative last year, frustrating workers even more.

Organizers hope to file for organizing elections with the National Mediation Board in 2018.

The April 4 rally will feature speakers, food and music beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the St. Paul Labor Center, 353 W. 7th St. Doors will open at 6 p.m.

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