20,000 Delta flight attendants nearing union vote

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“We are working really hard to keep union representation to maintain our quality of life,” said Amy Smith, Delta Air Lines flight attendant, passing out information about the flight attendants’ organizing campaign at the Minnesota State Fair earlier this month. Smith worked 15 years for unionized Northwest Air Lines before it was purchased by larger non-union Delta.

After Delta acquired Northwest in 2008, the former Northwest flight attendants continued working under their old Northwest contract.

Beginning September 29 and continuing until November 3,  20,000 Delta flight attendants will have the opportunity to vote in an election supervised by the National Mediation Board to determine whether the merged workforce of Northwest and Delta flight attendants will be union – or not.

The campaign to win the vote by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA spans the globe from Amsterdam to Tokyo. And the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport – a former hub and headquarters for Northwest – is at the center of the campaign, reported Bill McGlashen, assistant to AFA-CWA president Pat Friend.

“We’re actually running a world operation right here,” McGlashen said. “We have 2,000 flight attendants who are based in Minneapolis,” he said. That’s 10 percent of Delta’s 20,000 flight attendants, he noted, and “there’s a lot of key leadership that’s based here,” he noted. “It’s a central location we’re staging everything out of,” he said.

McGlashen said hundreds of AFA-CWA members based here are involved in visibility work in the airport parking lot, speaking to co-workers at crew lounges and staffing a phone bank in Bloomington.

“Minneapolis is the key operations center for the entire world-wide campaign,” he said. “We’re going to have get-out-the-vote efforts from Amsterdam to Tokyo and all in between.”

McGlashen noted that flight attendants at the former Northwest Air Lines became union 63 years ago. Their negotiated wages and benefits set a standard for the industry. “This is really a fight to keep that,” he said, and to regain ground lost to concessions in recent years.

“Pre-merger Northwest flight attendants are a key component of the vote here,” he said. “They’re a key component of the total vote.”

McGlashen said the National Mediation Board will mail voting instructions to flight attendants September 29. All flight attendants on the former Northwest seniority list, whether union or not, he noted, will be eligible to vote.

“You can vote two ways – you can vote by phone or you can vote by internet voting,” McGlashen reported.

The mailed instructions will provide each flight attendant with a secure code to facilitate telephone or internet voting.

“The company doesn’t know you’ve voted,” McGlashen noted. “It’s a completely secret ballot.”

A June 1, 2010 change in National Mediation Board rules will give the union a better chance of winning the vote than in the past.

Under the old rules, established by the Railway Labor Act, a majority of all eligible voters was required for the union to prevail.

Under the new rules, “it’s decided by a majority of those who vote,” McGlashen noted.

AFA-CWA should have won two prior elections at the old Delta, gaining landslide support, but – under the old rules – the union fell short of absolute majority of all eligible flight attendants, so it lost those earlier votes.

“Delta and Northwest flight attendants, who have worked so hard and waited so patiently, have seized the moment and for the first time in history, will participate in a union representation election governed by democratic voting rules,” said AFA-CWA president Pat Friend.

Delta management has been very aggressive in opposing the union’s campaign, reported Delta flight attendant Simone Cerasa. The anti-union campaign has include a blitz of media, including mailers, videos, posters, webcasts, pre-recorded phone calls, visits from upper management, and “even messages when you turn on your computer,” he said.

Ballots in the flight attendants’ vote will be counted November 3.

National Mediation Board rulings also are setting the stage for a similar vote for the Machinists union for 20,000 Delta fleet service workers, reservations agents and others, although a voting period has not yet been  announced.

This story includes reporting by Jenny Brown of Labor Notes, Workday Minnesota, and Press Associates.