Home ] Up ]





Patricia Friend Spins like a Top

February 1, 2002                                                                                       

Dear AFA Member, 

On February 1, after a heroic four-year effort by the Delta flight attendants, assisted by AFA staff and AFA flight attendant member organizers, the votes were counted in the first ever union representation election for the flight attendants at Delta Air Lines.  

For AFA to be certified as the Delta flight attendants’ representative under National Mediation Board rules, 50 percent plus one of the 19,033 flight attendants eligible to vote had to return their ballots.  When the votes were counted, just 5,609 had the courage to return their ballot, not enough to finally achieve a voice at work.  5,520 of the votes cast were for AFA, while just 89 votes were cast for “other”.  That means AFA received 98 percent of the votes cast and, under any other election procedure -- like the procedure used in most elections in America where the party that receives the majority of votes cast wins -- we would have been the winner; but not under NMB rules. 

Delta management’s multi-million dollar illegal campaign of intimidation, fear and harassment succeeded in interfering with the flight attendants’ legal right to choose a union, and silenced their voices.   That campaign included tactics like Delta's management lying to its over 3,000 furloughed flight attendants by falsely saying they weren't eligible to vote.  That lie potentially kept over 3,000 flight attendants from returning their ballots.  In fact, these flight attendants were eligible to vote and had sufficient motivation to return their ballots after being furloughed with no real recall rights. 

On the Delta flight attendants’ behalf, AFA has already filed charges of illegal interference with the NMB. The NMB is the government agency with the responsibility to conduct elections for union representation and to ensure that the workers’ right to vote is protected. 

The NMB has conducted a preliminary investigation and already found that the evidence against Delta presents a prima facie case of interference by Delta management.  The NMB will now proceed with a thorough investigation to determine an appropriate remedy to level the playing field and to provide the flight attendants with a free and fair election, as they deserve. 

A new election may be ordered by the NMB, bypassing the normal one-year waiting period for another election.  We will argue forcefully that the NMB should order a special circumstances election, changing the rules in order to counteract management’s interference and ensure that the flight attendants’ right to freely choose union representation is protected.  

There is precedent for setting a new election with special circumstances.  It’s called a “Laker” ballot, named for the airline where an earlier disputed election took place.  A “Laker” ballot election would eliminate the 50% + 1 participation threshold.  In its place, AFA would need to get the votes of a majority of those who cast a ballot in order to win, rather than requiring a majority of those eligible to cast a ballot.  This standard would be just like the rules for any other democratic election run in America. 

The investigation into Delta’s interference should be completed within 60 days. We will obviously cooperate with the NMB to the fullest extent.  Given the effectiveness of management’s interference, we believe the only realistic chance for the Delta flight attendants to have a fair election, and for AFA to be certified as the bargaining representative, is through a decision to level the playing field with a “Laker” type ballot. 

While we await the final decision of the NMB, we will begin the process of shutting down the fully staffed Organizing Department, retaining only those staff necessary to assist the NMB investigation.  

Should the politically appointed and politically sensitive members of the Mediation Board lack the courage to give the Delta flight attendants an election free from illegal interference and simply call for a re-run of the election under the current procedures, then it is very unlikely that a new election will have a different result from this first election. In that case, further investment of AFA members’ dues money would not be justified and I would recommend that we not commit a significant level of resources to a new election.  

If the members of the NMB recognize the right of the Delta flight attendants to choose union representation without undue influence, and order an election with special circumstances that truly attempts to eliminate Delta management's illegal interference, then we can win and we must recommit ourselves to this effort.  At that point, we will reinstate sufficient staff to run a Get-Out-The-Vote campaign and work again to gain a voice at work for the Delta flight attendants and to consolidate the economic and political power of all flight attendants. 

Like you, I look back over the many events that conspired to prevent the Delta flight attendants from gaining a voice in their workplace and a binding contract to cover their wages, work rules and benefit packages.  When we filed for this election on August 29, 2001, we had momentum.  The acts of terrorism committed on September 11 pushed our industry into an economic crisis and created great uncertainty for our personal safety and our job security. Delta management was relentless in its efforts to persuade the Delta flight attendants that they were part of the Delta “family” and would always be cared for by the airline.  Even after receiving funds from taxpayers as part of the government bailout to prevent the bankruptcy of airlines, Delta continued to spend unprecedented amounts of money to persuade the Delta flight attendants they did not need a binding contract.  

The management of Delta Air Lines even went so far as to exploit the events of September 11 by implying to their flight attendants that in this era of heightened patriotism it is unpatriotic to vote to join a union and have a true voice in your workplace. They told flight attendants in one-on-one discussions that, in light of September 11, they should remove their AFA pins. 

We can never forget a simple fact that Delta management has conveniently ignored:  it was unionized workers who lost their lives on September 11, and it was union workers who responded to the tragedy of September 11 and worked around the clock for days in an effort to find and save any possible survivors of the event.  There is no more patriotic institution in America than America’s unions. 

We are reminded that there is a reason that interference with a worker’s right to freely choose to join a union is illegal – it works.  Once again in this hard fought election, we see the results of management’s expensive and illegal activities. The Delta flight attendants who are part of this campaign deserve a voice in their workplace.  And if they are granted a level playing field by the NMB, the flight attendant members of the Association of Flight Attendants should continue to fully support their efforts to join the family of unionized flight attendants in this country.  In a fair election, we will win.


In Solidarity, 

Patricia Friend
International President




Send mail to webmaster@deltafa.org with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: December 13, 2008