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The Coronavirus Is ‘Jump-Starting’ Union Organizing At Delta As ‘Uncertainty About The Pandemic Is Stoking A Desire Among Workers For Labor Protections’

Published Friday, March 13, 2020
by Mike Elk/The Prospect
The Coronavirus Is ‘Jump-Starting’ Union Organizing At Delta As ‘Uncertainty About The Pandemic Is Stoking A Desire Among Workers For Labor Protections’

(ATLANTA, GEORGIA) - For more than a decade, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has struggled to organize Flight Attendants at Delta, the largest Non-Union airline in the country – but now, the spread of the Coronavirus is giving new energy to what has long seemed an impossible task.

“There ‘has been an uptick in interest in the campaign due to (the) Coronavirus (outbreak).’ Flight Attendants ‘have started comparing other airlines’ responses to safety and employment concerns with our company’s own responses, or lack thereof,’” said one Flight Attendant, “Cheryl,” who recently returned from a country with a major coronavirus outbreak and declined to give her real name out of fear of retaliation.

With more than 25,000 Flight Attendants employed at Delta, a win there would be one of the largest Union victories in decades and it would open the door to massive Unionizing in the South, where Delta is based, as well as throughout the transportation industry.

The increase in Union organizing interest at Delta could also be a sign that, in the age of global pandemics like the Coronavirus, more Workers will be looking to Unions to protect them in scary, turbulent times.

“Calls to sign an Authorization Card ‘have increased in just a few days.’  ‘I’ve given out several Union pins today alone,’” says Cheryl, who added that she has never seen Union interest from Flight Attendants grow so quickly.

Since 2002, the AFA has failed in three separate attempts to Unionize at Delta.

In its most recent effort in 2010, after Delta merged with Unionized Northwest Airlines, many Pro-Union Flight Attendants were optimistic about victory.

However, the AFA lost the Union Election by a vote of 9,544 to 9,216 - a margin of only 328 votes in an election marked by allegations of illegal intimidation.

Delta has denied those allegations.

In November of last year, the AFA launched a new campaign to Unionize Delta Flight Attendants, hoping a drive would be successful this time, with Union approval at all-time highs.

The Union was making steady progress through the Winter, but Delta was able to dissuade some Workers by making changes to its policies.  Delta expanded break time between flights and gave Workers more flexibility in their assignments.  The airline even got rid of the polyester-blend uniforms, which Flight Attendants had been complaining had been making them sick for more than a year.

However, many Flight Attendants say that Delta similarly made improvements before the last Union Election in 2010, only to revert back to old practices once the Union threat faded.

Now, with airlines canceling thousands of flights, threats of layoffs looming and Flight Attendants forced to work in potentially hazardous situations, Union Activists at Delta report that they see a massive spike in interest in the Union.

The Coronavirus is serving as a wake-up call to many Flight Attendants scared about their futures.

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