Have you ever been confronted by a smug association of
flight attendants- Communication Workers of America ("afa-CWA") activist who says "If you had voted
yes, the afa-CWA would have protected us from these changes?" Next time
that happens, ask the activist if he or she is uninformed, or if he or
she is intentionally misleading you.
Before we get started, we would like to point out that we do not like
many of the changes, but to say a union would have prevented these changes
is clearly false. Read along to find out why.
If we had elected the afa-CWA in February of 2002, it could not have
prevented the recent changes to our work rules and benefits. The Railway
Labor Act ("RLA") and court decisions allow Delta to make
unilateral changes to work rules and benefits between certification of a union and the first
Not Short Answer
Delta flight attendants are covered by the Railway Labor Act. The
RLA governs the interaction between railway and airline employees and
their employers. From the time employees decide that they want to belong
to a union and begin to campaign through contract negotiations, the RLA
governs this interaction.
When negotiating a contract, the RLA imposes a duty to maintain the
"status quo." For employers, the status quo is a requirement
that the carrier maintain existing wages and working conditions during
negotiations. The duty to maintain the status quo also imposes some duties
on a union, as our pilots discovered when they were admonished by the
courts for their behavior during their Contract 2000 negotiations, but we
Some activists will tell you that Delta would have had to maintain the
status quo if we had elected the afa-CWA. The passion behind their words and
their argument sounds pretty convincing. Well, pretty convincing until you
look into the facts and the law. When you examine the law, it leads to the
inescapable conclusion that those activists are wrong.
The first contract is not an easy thing to attain. Typically, a
recently unionized group can look forward to three or more years of
negotiation before signing a first contract. The ballots in the last
campaign at Delta were counted in February, 2002. Based on past afa-CWA
negotiation results, we would be looking at our first contract in 2005.
Our activist coworkers would have you believe that during this time the
company would have its hands tied by the status quo provision of the RLA,
and Delta could not change our working conditions. They are wrong.
Our activists are confused about when status quo protection is
applicable. Status quo is only meant to apply where there is already a
collective bargaining agreement in place. In our case, we had no prior
contract, so status quo protection would not have been applicable. Therefore, Delta
would have had the right to unilaterally change our benefits and working
conditions while we were waiting for our first contract. The recent
changes still would have been implemented by Delta. The afa-CWA would have had
no legal standing to stop their implementation.
Our answer is based on a string of court cases that support a company’s
right to modify the status quo during negotiations. In Aircraft
Mechanics v. Atlantic Coast Airlines, Inc., the court said that the
RLA does not obligate a carrier to maintain existing wages and working
conditions during negotiations with a newly certified union for an initial
collective bargaining agreement. In Atlas Air, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots,
the court reinforced a carrier’s right to make unilateral changes in
status quo working conditions where there is no collective bargaining
agreement. (Note: For those of you who actually want to read the case, you
will find that the court affirmed the right of a company to make
unilateral changes. However, Atlas Air made the change to a profit
sharing plan solely to punish its pilots for electing a union. The court
did not allow this. The concept that you should walk away with is a
company can change benefits unilaterally if it is for business purposes.
If a company is changing benefits to punish or try to coerce a group not
to elect a union, the courts will not allow it).
Based on these cases, you will see that the law supports Delta’s
right to change working conditions before a first contract. No matter what
the activist may tell you to the contrary, that is the state of the law.
However, you do not have to believe us. You can ask Nancy Lenk, the
former Director of Organizing for the afa-CWA. She gave the same answer on January 2,
2002 in a JoinTogether message.
Download a printable
version of me in