Dozens of union organizers and Delta Air Lines flight attendants held signs and chanted during a rally on Thursday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, in a bid to gain public support for unionization efforts at Delta.
The flight attendants were joined by ramp workers and mechanics who are also trying to unionize at Atlanta-based Delta. They stood together along curbside at Terminal South late Thursday morning and marched onto an overhead walkway at the end of the rally.
While other major airlines are highly unionized, Delta is mostly non-union, its pilots the airline’s major unionized group.
“Delta has been the holdout,” said Association of Flight Attendants, International President Sara Nelson, who traveled to Atlanta to join the rally. But now, “this is the middle of this moment for unions to be on the rise again,” she said, citing organizing efforts at Starbucks, Amazon and Trader Joe’s.
Delta has been a prime target for union recruitment efforts for decades. However, the company has fended off various organizing attempts over the years.
“Delta does a really good job of union-busting… in a way that has carried through for decades,” acknowledged Kara Dupuis, a member of the Delta AFA organizing committee.
But, Dupuis said, junior flight attendants who are “feeling the brunt of the economic downturn… are really pushing” for a union. Organizers seek better total compensation for workers, more input into work rules and a grievance process.
Last fall, union organizers decided to revive their organizing efforts at Delta with a more united front among multiple unions — which, they say, in combination makes it the largest private-sector unionization campaign in the country.
The Association of Flight Attendants is targeting Delta’s in-flight crew members; the International Association of Machinists is targeting ramp workers, cargo workers and others; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is targeting mechanics. Combined, the unions say it’s a total of about 50,000 Delta workers they want to organize.
Delta issued a statement saying “we support our employees’ right to choose whether or not a union is right for them.”
“We believe our direct relationship with employees is stronger, faster and more effective in driving improvements, which is why Delta employees have repeatedly rejected union representation over the past 20 years,” Delta said in its statement.
Previously, unions had battled each other for the right to organize airline employee groups. But now, union leaders including Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien and AFA’s Nelson “understand that we have big existential fights ahead of us,” Nelson said. “And the only way that we’re going to win is by building power together.”
The union organizers also hope to gain support for a shareholder proposal that would call for a non-interference policy to uphold rights to collective bargaining.
The proposal submitted by As You Sow, an environmental and social corporate accountability shareholder advocacy group, seeks a policy that would prohibit pressuring employees not to form or join a union.
“We don’t want intimidation,” said Gameli Appiah, a Delta ramp worker and IAM activist.
Delta opposes the proposal, saying such a policy “could be detrimental to Delta’s relationship with its employees,” and adding that Delta already provides “industry-leading total compensation.”
Delta came under fire in 2019 for an anti-union flyer that encouraged workers to spend their money on a new video game system instead of union dues. The IAM filed election interference charges with the National Mediation Board, which declined to investigate the allegations.