New Campaign To Unionize Delta Flight Attendants

Filed Under: Delta, Unions

Of the “big three” US airlines, Delta has by far the fewest unionized employees, as only their pilots are unionized, while none of their other work groups are.

Well, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) is now trying to unionize Delta flight attendants.

AFA Trying To Unionize Delta Flight Attendants

AFA has announced that they are launching a campaign to try and unionize Delta flight attendants. Delta’s flight attendants are the largest non-union flight attendant group in the country, so obviously AFA sees a lot of potential there.

AFA says this comes as “thousands of flight attendants at Delta Airlines have asked AFA to join them in efforts to become full members” of their union.

With this, AFA leadership will be at Delta hubs talking to Delta flight attendants, and they’ll also be holding informational calls.

Sara Nelson is the President of the AFA, and she makes some interesting claims in a video:

  • Delta pays $100 million less a year than United for flight attendant costs for the same size operation
  • An MIT study shows that Delta flight attendants made an average of $14,000 less last year than United flight attendants
  • Each Delta employee generates 12% more revenue

While each Delta employee no doubt generates more revenue than an American or United employee, I’m not sure I’d buy those other numbers, unless they have another source. The MIT study that they reference specifically points out the following:

The labor cost measures presented here are based on data as reported by each airline to the US DOT. Given that different airlines may include different elements of total labor expense in their reports, direct comparisons of total labor remuneration across airlines can be misleading. For example, the inclusion of profit-sharing payments in these data reports can and does differ across airlines.

Here’s that video from Sara Nelson:

Past Efforts To Unionize Have Failed

In the past 20 years there have been three separate efforts to get Delta flight attendants unionized. For example, there were major campaigns to unionize flight attendants in 2002, 2008, and 2010.

In 2010, employees voted by a very narrow margin not to unionize. Of roughly 20,000 flight attendants, 9,544 voted against unionizing, while 9,216 voted in favor of unionizing.

I’d note that Delta management runs very strong campaigns against employees unionizing. For example, recently mechanics were looking at the possibility of unionizing, and Delta put out these tone-deaf flyers, suggesting that union dues cost $700, and mechanics could instead buy video games with that money.

Delta Management Treats Employees Better

Before I share my thoughts on the odds of success of this, I think it’s worth mentioning that Delta management and employees have a significantly better relationship than what you’ll find at American and United:

None of this is intended to suggest they should or shouldn’t unionize, but rather just to point out that both Delta employees and Delta management operate with more purpose than their competitors.

In the US I’d say that if employees at an airline choose not to be unionized then we can assume the employees have a fairly good relationship with management. Conversely, though, I wouldn’t assume that a heavily unionized airline means that relations aren’t good.

For example, Southwest flight attendants are among the best out there, and they’re unionized.

Will This Effort To Unionize Succeed?

Overall the percent of unionized workers in the US has been in steady decline over the past several decades. However, I tend to think there are some things working both for and against the prospects of this being successful.

First of all, about 40% of Delta flight attendants have been hired in the past nine years, so the people voting here will be completely different than in the past:

  • On the one hand, these employees probably view unions a bit differently than Delta’s senior employees, since they didn’t deal with bankruptcy, 9/11, and everything that went along with that
  • On the other hand, with the popularity of people like Bernie Sanders, the concept of unionizing is making somewhat of a comeback (among some base of the population)

Another thing at play here is that Sara Nelson is President of the AFA, and she’s quite a well known figure. While in the past these airlines unions have largely been faceless organizations, Sara Nelson has been called the most powerful flight attendant in America, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts the desire to belong to the AFA.

Bottom Line

I actually don’t have a strong take here one way or another. Delta has a superior corporate culture, and all I care about is that this continues, and that management and employees work together to build a great airline.

I’d say overall that has worked well without unions, but at the same time it could also work with unions, as we see at Southwest.

If this effort by the AFA comes to a vote, it will be very interesting to see how that goes, especially since so many Delta flight attendants have been hired within the past nine years.

Do you think the AFA will be successful in unionizing Delta flight attendants?

  1. Looks like Delta is similar to P&G, P&G China is the only where is unionized as required by law, but union in China cannot protest and its like a communication betwwen employees and higher levels organization.

  2. I’m guessing one of the incentives Sara Nelson and the AFA wants Delta to unionize so they can get more dues $$$?

  3. I feel like Delta Flight attendants have the best attitudes of the Big 3, hopefully that doesn’t change if unionization is successful.

  4. See GM for why unions suck. They push until they destroy something. I’m all for basic necessities but when you push, push and push bad things happened. Don’t get wrong GM the company sucks too.

  5. Didn’t realize 40% of FAs were hired in the last 10 years – explains why Delta crews seem less ‘special’ than they did 5 years ago.

    Hope they can come to compromises without a union. There is a little extra sense of pride and ‘get things done’ when there’s an ownership culture.

  6. For Gods Sake DO NOT!!!!! Go with AFA they are a horrid Union. Sara Nelson is doing it for the money. They are a worthless union. You go to file a grievance with a local rep. ” We can file a grievance but we will lose.” is the standard answer. To all Delta FA’s stay away,

  7. There is no rational economic incentive for unionization: the fees will far outweigh any purported uplift in income or benefits.

    Meanwhile, the union will necessarily create an antagonistic relationship with management to justify its existence, and damage the healthy culture they’ve built together at Delta.

    The AFA is a parasitic organization, arguably at the root of why US airlines are so far below their potential versus global competitors with respect to service standards. It’s a shame!

  8. This is so funny.

    I doubt unions will win votes in good economy.

    Like many have said, if the company treats their employees well, there is no need for unions.

    Now if Sara is smart, AFA should use a different approach. No dues for 5 years and add 20% from year 6 until full due on year 10.

    Sara can’t bait and hook on $700 a year, that is 1 Xbox or PS4 + full year game subscription + 10 games easily. Now if all 20,000 of them trade games that is virtually every game possible in the year.

    Sara should promise every DL member a new car while getting subsidy from UA AS.

    Stop destroying America, this is part of why Trump wanted the wall.

  9. Please God Noooo! No doubt that Sara is charismatic, but her services are wholly unnecessary at Delta.

    I love Delta and specifically their flight attendants that are on the whole the best in North America. I hope they realize that unionization may set a “floor” in bad times but it also almost certainly adds a “ceiling” in good times Like now when profit share is at an all time high.

    Count me in with Delta management as lobbying flight attendants to vote NO on every flight that I’m on from now until the vote.

  10. Meanwhile, no plans for Delta movie censors to unionize. As far as we know.

    From Buzzfeed: Delta Air Lines will restore same-sex love scenes to its in-flight versions of the 2019 movies Booksmart and Rocketman, the company confirmed to BuzzFeed News. The airline said that it was provided an “edited” version of each film, but only realized this week that those versions omitted key same-sex love scenes involving its lead characters. “We are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Delta said in a statement. The news broke after Booksmart director Olivia Wilde retweeted a viewer who complained that the hookup scene between one of the film’s leads, Kaitlyn Dever, and actor Diana Silvers (Ma) had been cut from the film.

  11. Unionization will be the end of the good service, friendliness, etc that we have experienced with Delta over the years. Delta is the best of the biggest US airlines. Unionization will drive up costs with no benefits to operations. Union work rules will screw up everything. Adios, Delta, as a premier, on-time US airline.

  12. Just wondering, because SFO is so expensive and is a big base for UA, does the study cited take into consideration the cost of living for the flight attendant bases? It is easy to say that UA flight crew make X and Delta Y, but it would be interesting to see what the average cost of living of bases difference is.

  13. what benefits will a union bring ? side by side comparison please… pay / holidays / time off / work schedules etc I worked with both union and non union employees and each time after the union employees are free… they realize that the only thing that changed is that they have more money in their pocket…

  14. The main reason they are striving to be represented is because they are tires of being talked to and about like a subhuman class of robots whos sole purpose is to serve graciously and depart on time. They are regularly handed the shortend of the stick and expected to make it work, without compensation for the majority of what they do.
    Please open your eyes and ears to whats going on around you the next time you’re on a plane. They get their butts kicked during boarding, enduring people people-ing, stand to be on duty up to 16 hrs a day. No formal lunch breaks, guranteed. Not even so much as a guranteed opportunity to visit a real toilet, exhale and call home to check on your sick 4 year old. That deserves more compensation than you can fathom. Next time you sit to eat your lunch at work, immagine doing so while repeatedly being handed trash, asked for refills or evading the wafting odors exiting the lavatories.
    So much of what is on paper to protect flight attendants comes circa 1975.
    This is not the same glamourous world of pan am aviation. They fly more, deal with much more, are exposed to worse treatment, and environmental factors, and do so all while wearing toxic uniforms, their companies continue to ignore.
    Will Delta unionize? The answer is yes, and here is why.
    They do not stand for ambiguity, unfairness, broken promises or career dissatisfaction. They want what they deserve. And many times they demand what they want. All their lives they’ve been conditioned to stand up for themselves, stand up for eachother; and to leave behind anything that doesn’t bring you joy ( jobs included)
    Their parents were not this way.
    the rate the aviation industry is turning over to millennials at the hourly level, is disproportionately greater than the rate at which their executive leadership is prepared to humbly learn to manage.
    Their parents were managed mostly by their more eager to ladder climb peers.
    The millennial is being managed by their parents.

    Add the recently disillusioned millennial vote to that of the fed up tenured flight attendant, and the population of senior staff who have noticed their rose colored glasses have shattered and you have the recipe for a union. Sarah is a younger, more vibrant, visible and outspoken leader than her predecessors. This pairing will change things. The industry will listen. Everything must change.
    The flight attendant union you once knew is not what the current population of flight attendants will turn it into. They arent fighting for pensions… they’re literally fighting for their lives.

  15. For those nay-sayers I say…Why is ok for the pilots, police officers, firefighters, and sport teams (to name a few) ok with unions but Delta flight attendants should vote it down? Pilots on international flights that are deadheading get confirmed business class. Flight attendants get middle seats in coach, and if there is room, then up front. When irregular operations comes up they (DL) get up to 4 hours more of pay. Pilots get double time. Pilots get a load of sick time every year. Flight attendants get “a few personal time hours per year” (no sick time). DL flight attendants love to fly and “we” show it even though we are not treated equally. DL saves millions of dollars each year for being non-union primarily because they can do what they want with us whenever they want. That alone is their greatest asset. If a union is ever voted in, DL will not need 75% of the inflight management staff and some of the VPs will have to find new jobs.
    A union is needed at DL. Not just for benefits, but to make things equal. Either way, DL flight attendants are in no way to be compared to the likes of AA ur UA flight attendants. While we support each other’s causes’, we have a different work ethic and mentality about our employers.

  16. Delta flight attendants have voted in more union elections than 99% of the American public- and rejected the union every time.

    As for the claims about compensation that Sara Nelson makes, she might actually take a class in statistics and learn that the average Delta flight attendant salary is skewed downward precisely because Delta has hired more flight attendants who start at lower salaries than either American or United.

    The reason why Delta has hired more flight attendants is because Delta has reduced the number of regional jet aircraft flying for it while increasing the number of mainline aircraft; in contrast, United is adding more regional jet aircraft while United management resists buying a small mainline aircraft such as the 717 or A220 that Delta operates – or the E190 family.

    United passengers are more than twice as likely to fly on a regional jet than Delta passengers are. In fact, Delta passengers are less likely to fly on an outsourced regional jet than they are on Alaska, American or United.

    Instead of courting Delta employees, Ms. Nelson should explain why the AFA has allowed far more outsourcing of flight attendant jobs at United than at Delta. The fact that unionized flight attendants have allowed outsourcing a higher percentage of their flying than Delta is a pretty good reason why Delta employees don’t want unions despite the supposed “protections” that unions love to talk about.

  17. I’m a Delta Flight Attendant for 22 yrs now. I went thru 3 elections and voted No to all. Unions are mostly there for the money. Most of the flight attendants from other mainline tells me do not go union! We received a letter from Delta management this wk that union will make $15 million from Delta flight attendants if they come on board. Delta is not a perfect company but what company is? There is always some progress to be made. I trust Delta management then union people.

  18. In a free society, unions would exist in very narrow circumstances and would be a benefit for both the employer and the members. Under our current structure, most are simply adversarial and destructive.

  19. Communism unions destroyed everything manufacturing industries in US, first railroad then steel.
    Maybe it’s time to make US aviation industry collapses and let foreign carriers taking over air traffic.

  20. Yes, unions destroyed everything, starting with 60-hour work weeks.
    Hey, I too have found DL FAs to be generally excellent; would unionization change that? I doubt it. In my experience, management ultimately makes or kills culture.
    I only once saw a Delta executive. That was on an ATL-SFO flight about ten years ago; he spent much of the flight talking to the FOs about their shared interest.
    Get a union if you need one. If management stays on the same team, things will be fine.

  21. I’m a retired DL FA. Unions have wanted DL FAs’ dues money for decades. The THREAT of a union is much better than the beast itself. Delta workers enjoy an outstanding relationship with management, and Delta bests what unionized carriers negotiate without the fighting, negativity and lots of dues money. It’s a winning combination for Delta and those lucky enough to work there.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *