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Delta Flight Attendants Launch Union Drive

Delta is the last major airline without unionized flight attendants — but not for long.

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Video produced and edited by Paula Pecorella and Meg Herschlein

Delta is the last major airline without a flight attendants union—but not for long. Delta flight attendants have launched a massive union drive that would organize 22,000 workers under the AFA-CWA. They narrowly lost a union election in 2010 but tell us this time the tide has turned. We spoke with the Delta flight attendants organizing the union drive and AFA President Sara Nelson. Below is a full transcript of the video.

Sara Nelson: Delta flight attendants are the last group of flight attendants flying for a major airline today that don’t have a union.

Kara: We’re not treated like people. We’re not treated like real humans with families, and obligations, and stresses, and illnesses. I am seniority #13,998, and that is how I’m treated at Delta.

Sara: Workers are stretched thin. Staffing has been cut and we’ve been asked to do more than ever, uh, forced overtime hours. And the airline industry is no different. Going into COVID, people were working twice as long as they were prior to 9/11.

[News clip of Delta CEO]: In the month of March, we had the highest sales in terms of bookings of any month in our history, period. Highest ever. 

Sara: Delta is going to have a rough summer because they’re severely short-staffed. 

The only way that the airline runs, the only way that it takes off is by people working harder, doing more shifts, and flying more hours than they ever have before.

Ari: I hate reading the news and seeing some of the things we’re putting out about specifically being fully staffed for this summer.

[News clip of Delta CEO]: We’ve been getting out ahead of the staffing issue for basically the last year and a half. Our team is ready to serve, so we’re well staffed for the summer.

Ari: Behind the scenes, it’s like, ok, I’m gonna get rerouted and flown in on my off day because we’re making these promises, these empty promises, that I’m already used to getting, to the public. 

Sara: When things go wrong in the operation, what that means is that oftentimes flight attendants are stranded in the airport. They can’t get a hotel room. They can’t get a hold of anyone in scheduling because there’s no one right there in their workplace to tell them where to go, or what to do, or how to be safe even.

Kara Dupuis: So for instance, right now, I can sign in for a trip that’s going to be two days. I’m anticipating working for two legs, layover, work for two legs. Once I sign in for this trip, I am basically at the company’s whim. There are no real guidelines about who gets reassigned when, who gets rerouted when. There’s no transparency. We don’t know how the decisions are made or when they’re made.

Sara: When you’re planning to get home and feed the cat, or pick up your kid from preschool, and you’re not getting home and you don’t know when you are, and you don’t know how to tell people how to pick up the pieces of your life in the meantime, it’s really hard.

Kara: Our pilots did not have to have that change because they have a contractual protection [from a union]. So they didn’t have to deal with the quality of life changes, they didn’t have to deal with the financial impact because it was determined by a contract and they couldn’t change it. It’s really hard not to see it as that they were trying to force us into being more productive.

Sara: Delta Air Lines has integrated an anti-union stance for decades. It’s woven into the culture that Delta has perpetuated.

[Delta anti-union video]: I’ve been flying for 32 years, 12 of them have been with Delta, 20 were with Northwest Airlines. And during those 20 years we went through 3 different unions. Three different unions, always empty promises. The union never really did anything for us so I would just beg you to do your research.

Jack Dafoe: When I was a Northwest flight attendant, we had a union. I was greater protected by work rules, which were so important to me. If we were illegal to work a trip, there was no emotion involved. It was just contractual. It was business-like, you know? I would call a scheduler and say, “I’m illegal to work this flight,” and then my hotel and transportation was just set up. And now, it’s emotionally charged. Sometimes a scheduler will, kind of somewhat harass you a bit at times, you know, to work the trip or try to get you to work the trip that you’re not supposed to, according to the work rules.

Ari: I just think it’s funny that Delta says they’re the best of the best—not saying we’re not, but I think it’s funny that they hold that and it’s because we don’t have a union. They say we’re the driving force of the company but they work so hard to keep us corralled in their palm or however you wanna describe it.

Sara: This one is not gonna be close. This one they’re gonna win by a mile.

Kara: There is something in the air here that I’ve never felt before.

Jack: I feel we see this American culture shift toward unions right now. It was kind of a bad word at some point in history, but I’ve watched that shift with Amazon, and Starbucks, and other companies. And to listen to their inspiration and their drive to fight against something that they thought they couldn’t, and to achieve what they are achieving, I just—I feel overwhelmed and I know that we’re gonna win here at Delta Air Lines.

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