Delta Air Lines Workers Soon To Get Fair Vote

It may soon become much easier for workers in the airline and railroad industries to form unions, and the most immediate impact may come at Delta Air Lines.

Under the current interpretation of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which governs both railroads and airlines, a majority of all employees must vote in favor of the union in order for the union to be certified. All who abstain are counted against the union.

Last week the National Mediation Board (NMB) filed a proposed rule change in the Federal Register: workers who want a union would need at least 50 percent plus one of those voting—just as under the National Labor Relations Act.

The change had been requested by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

The NMB now says the original interpretation of the RLA was based on what seemed best from an administration point of view in 1942 and not on the basis of legal opinion or precedents. The Board stated that “the Board's current election procedure appears to be at odds with the modern participatory workplace philosophy...and the basic principles of democratic elections.”


Delta flight attendants have tried to unionize twice, and ground agents once. All attempts were unsuccessful due to the unfair procedures of the NMB and due to constant interference on management's part. Because of the recent merger with heavily unionized Northwest Airlines, though, Delta employees now have high hopes.

In July the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA had officially begun the process for a representation election for 20,000 flight attendants at Delta. In August the Machinists union filed a similar request for 14,000 Delta fleet service employees (baggage handlers).



Give $10 a month or more and get our "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt.

But both unions withdrew their requests in the last week. AFA said November 3 that it would be unfair to put flight attendants through an election under the old rules when more democratic voting rules could be in place by the time the NMB sets an election.

The proposed rule change is now open to public comment for 60 days. Delta has unsurprisingly received endorsements from the seven dwarfs of the Republican Party (Isakson, Chambliss, Corker, Voinovich, Bunning, Hatch, Bennett), as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the Air Transport Association.

The upcoming change to the antiquated voting procedures is welcomed by Delta flight attendants who have been pro-union for years. Over 65 percent of aviation employees overall are union members, but only 15 percent of Delta employees.

For far too long Delta employees have been subject to unfair treatment. Employees are treated as liabilities, and the substandard pay and compensation are a reflection of that.

A common saying among the employees is, "At Delta, you're guilty until proven innocent." A voice at work, a fair disciplinary process, and a seat at the grown-up table with management will be welcomed by a majority of employees.

Simone Cerasa is a Delta flight attendant and AFA activist.