Delta’s anti-union propaganda campaign

March 12, 2018 reports on another attempt by Delta Air Lines to keep their employees from unionizing.

DELTA AIR Lines sent out a company-wide e-mail memo to their employees on March 8 launching a new anti-union website in response to a growing campaign led by Delta baggage handlers and flight attendants to form a union with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW).

The e-mail and the associated website contain all the hallmarks of a typical anti-union playbook that companies across the country use in order to intimidate their employees and convince them not to join a union.

The e-mail starts by claiming that the IAM is using "aggressive tactics to push their agenda." Delta executives are attempting to make the IAM sound like a third party coming in from the outside to disrupt and manipulate Delta Air Lines employees.

What Delta executives don't want their less informed employees to realize is that the campaign to win union representation under the IAM is being run and led by Delta workers, for Delta workers. The "agenda" that's being pushed is the agenda of Delta workers who are collectively interested in unionizing, not the IAM.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian (Chris Rank | Wikimedia Commons)

The memo goes on to call the IAM a "struggling business...[whose] membership has been declining for years while the salaries of its leaders continue to increase."

What this claim fails to account for is that the reason for the decline in the membership of unions over the last 40 years is a relentless attack on unions by corporations (including Delta) who spend millions of dollars every year in order to bust unions.

For instance, when Delta Air Lines merged with unionized Northwest Airlines in 2008, they spent $55 million on their anti-union campaign. Additionally, Mike Campbell, the previous vice president of Human Resources for Delta Air Lines, went on to co-found the anti-union law firm Ford & Harrison LLP.

The reason that union membership has declined over the last 40 years (and conversely, that income inequality has worsened) is because of companies like Delta Air Lines who are actively using their hoards of cash to make their employees pay, benefits and working conditions worse, in order to increase their profits and their executives salaries.

WHILE DELTA Air Lines would like to convince their employees that the salaries of leaders in the IAM are high, what they don't tell you is how high the salary of CEO Ed Bastian is in comparison.

IAM President Robert Martinez, who represents a union of nearly 600,000 members, makes approximately $280,000 a year--a substantial sum, to be sure. Ed Bastian, on the other hand, is the CEO of a company of 80,000 employees, and he makes $12.6 million in compensation a year, or about 45 times more than Martinez.

IAM President Robert Martinez, who represents a union of nearly 600,000 members, makes approximately (a very substantial) $280,000 a year. Ed Bastian, on the other hand, is the CEO of a company of 80,000 employees, and makes almost $12,600,000 in compensation a year, or about 45 times more than Martinez.

The argument that IAM salaries are high is incredibly hypocritical of a company that pays its CEO millions, while its Ready Reserve employees make only slightly more than $20,000 a year.

Delta's anti-union propaganda goes on to say:

What would you receive for those mandatory dues? No guarantees...they have never achieved the industry-leading total package of pay, benefits, work rules and profit-sharing we already have at Delta. Everything is on the table during negotiations: things could improve, stay the same or get worse.

Delta is attempting to make joining a union sound like something risky, something that employees should fear. But what's interesting is that guarantees are exactly what you get when you pay dues and win a legally binding contract with your employer.

When you join a union and pay dues, you're joining an organization that is made up of your co-workers, and you collectively negotiate a contract that guarantees your compensation, working conditions and work rules.

In fact, "no guarantees" is exactly what you get when you're a non-union employee. Delta Air Lines can, and in fact does, change its work rules, working conditions, compensation and profit-sharing plan, whenever it feels like it, without consulting any of the people affected by those decisions.

For example, in 2015, Delta Air Lines cut its employees’ profit-sharing payout in half at the exact same time that the company was more profitable than it had ever been.

Additionally, Delta blatantly lies to its employees, claiming that they get an "industry-leading total package." This total package for baggage handlers includes a growing legion of "ready reserve" employees who now make up nearly half of all baggage handlers for Delta Air Lines.

Top pay as a ready reserve employee is $15 an hour without health benefits, paid vacations, a pension (or even 401k match), paid/flexible holidays and a maximum cap of 1,400 hours that they are allowed to work every year.

Meanwhile, at United and American Airlines, both unionized under the IAM, top pay for comparable part-time employees is more than $30 an hour, with access to health, vision and dental plans, paid vacations, an IAM pension, paid, flexible holidays, and no cap on the amount of hours they can work each year.

The union difference is clear and obvious, in this case.

DELTA AIR Lines concludes its anti-union rant by claiming:

At Delta, there is nothing more important than our people and our culture. Our track record of working directly together to achieve our goals spans more than 80 years and remains key to our success. The IAM has not contributed to that success and that's one of many reasons they have no place at Delta...(and) talk with your leaders if you have questions.

This last spin attempt is done to stoke up a sense of loyalty and trust: that the company has their employees' backs. Additionally, it attempts to label unions as something foreign to the company's culture.

It casually leaves out the fact that Delta pilots as well as flight dispatchers are currently represented by unions (and their profit-sharing wasn't cut in 2015 when everyone else's was, because they were unionized).

Delta encourages their employees to talk to their "leaders" (read: bosses) if they want the "facts" about unionizing, not their co-workers, especially co-workers who are pro-union and might convince them to sign an authorization card.

The two themes which resonate most strongly in Delta's anti-union propaganda e-mail are fear and loyalty: some of the oldest emotions used by union-busting companies to convince their employees that signing an authorization card and voting yes in an election is not the best choice.

These kinds of scare tactics will need to be challenged, both by the public at large, which must stand in solidarity with Delta employees seeking to make their lives better, but also, and most importantly, by Delta employees themselves, who hold the key to their own success in their hands.

If one thing is clear about Delta's anti-union e-mail, it is that whatever Delta employees are doing to run a successful union drive, to convince their co-workers to join and lead the drive and to build committees in their local hubs is obviously working, and the company is running scared.

In order to win and to beat back these blatant intimidation tactics, it will take doubling down on employees' efforts to organize a rank and file-led drive and a successful union election. The world is watching, Delta employees, and we wish you all the best.

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