At least 48 Delta pilots have COVID-19
First of all, the Delta division of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) reports that at least 48 Delta pilots have tested positive for COVID-19. Delta has about ~15,000 pilots, so that’s a significant number, but also not really surprising.
I would imagine that the reality is that many more pilots have it but just haven’t been tested, given the risks associated with being an airline employee right now.
As ALPA’s Executive Chairman says, “we think the number is quite significant, but we just don’t have the data, the company’s hiding it.”
Delta accused of hiding COVID-19 cases from employees
Footage has been leaked of the preparations that were being made for a virtual “town hall” for Delta pilots, where you can see union executives and Delta management discussing how best to handle this situation.
The reason this is so controversial is because:
- A Delta executive directed pilots who tested positive for COVID-19 to withhold the diagnosis from colleagues, including flight attendants
- A union representative said that one of Delta’s chief pilots told other pilots that “it’s not your job to go telling people that you were infected”
This was brought to the attention of a Delta spokesperson, who said the following:
“We are aware of the video and the discussion contained within it and are monitoring – our initial read is this is not consistent with our [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]-informed notification process.”
Then yesterday the company sent pilots updated guidelines for informing employees when a co-worker tests positive for the virus:
- Leaders will identify and notify employees who have come into prolonged contact with anyone who had symptoms of COVID-19
- They will inform employees up to 48 hours prior to when the symptoms began, while previously they would have only informed employees day-of
- “Prolonged contact” is defined as being within six feet for 10 continuous minutes
the video has since been deleted
Personally I’m not sure just how scandalous this really is — I’ll let you guys decide. I’m not sure if they were telling employees it wasn’t their “job” to tell colleagues because the communication should happen on a higher-level, or if it’s because they actually wanted to cover it up.
Will this eventually lead to more unionization at Delta?
I don’t think this will be immediate, but I’ll put my prediction out there right now — I think this entire situation will finally lead to Delta flight attendants voting to be unionized. Not this specific (alleged) cover-up, but rather the overall impacts of COVID-19.
There’s no doubt that Delta has used corporate culture as a competitive advantage, and Delta frontline employees are on balance nicer and more customer-focused than at American and United.
While Delta pilots are unionized, flight attendants aren’t. There have been all kinds of efforts to unionize Delta flight attendants, and they’ve failed. However, the votes that have taken place have been close. For example, in 2010, 9,544 flight attendants voted against unionizing, while 9,216 flight attendants voted in favor of unionizing.
I think the organizations trying to unionize Delta flight attendants will at some point make a few points:
- This cover-up, and the lack of “protection” flight attendants have
- The fact that flight attendants at Delta aren’t being offered the same opportunities as flight attendants at other airlines right now when it comes to paid leave; Delta is only offering flight attendants unpaid leave, while airlines like American are offering flight attendants paid leave options
- Delta has long used profit sharing as a competitive advantage, though I imagine there won’t be much of that in the next couple of years
To be clear, I’m not suggesting I’m for or against Delta flight attendants being unionized. Rather I believe that given that Delta’s flight attendants have been 50/50ish on unionizing in the past, I think this could push them over the edge when the next unionization efforts come around.
It’s hard to know for sure how much of a cover-up there really is here. I can appreciate the concept of management having a system by which employees are communicated with regarding contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. That seems more reliable than putting the burden on individual employees.
The point of this post is twofold — it’s pretty significant that a minimum of 48 (and probably way more) Delta pilots have tested positive for COVID-19. Furthermore — I’m just putting my bet out there now — I think Delta flight attendants may be unionized not too long after things start to return to normal(ish).