Legal filings mark new battle over unionizing Delta workers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Delta Air Lines and labor unions seeking to organize the carrier's workers have shifted their clash from on-the-ground campaigns to voluminous legal filings, but the accusations are just as harsh.
Unions for flight attendants and ground workers failed to win enough votes to represent Delta employees last year, and the National Mediation Board is weighing the unions' appeals for re-votes on grounds that the company illegally interfered in the elections.
Both sides have now laid out their initial claims in legal filings, and each accuses the other of inappropriate behavior during the campaigns.
According to Delta's latest filings this week, in response to charges filed by the International Association of Machinists, the Machinists union's rhetoric during the campaigns included calling Delta's executives "bent nosed crooks," "charlatans" and "greedy, deceitful, money grubbing liars."
The company also said Machinists union directing general chair Stephen Gordon in the past testified before the Minnesota Legislature that Delta had a "plantation style of management."
"A cornerstone of IAM's campaign was to attack Delta management, attempting to pit employees against their leaders, and to sow seeds of distrust," according to the filings by Delta's general attorney Andrea Bowman and attorneys for Delta at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP.
The Machinists union represented thousands of ground workers from Delta's merger partner Northwest Airlines. Delta, which is mostly non-union, in 2008 acquired Northwest, which is mostly unionized, and the elections last year were to settle representation matters after the merger.
The union said in a filing last December that Delta held meetings to influence employees on union voting, that supervisors and managers told employees they could lose their benefits or their jobs if they voted for the union and that Delta granted pay increases to non-union employees but not to their unionized counterparts.
Delta defended its methods and its right to communicate its views, and said in its filing that "it was important and necessary to educate employees that the rules had changed." Delta waged a get-out-the-vote campaign after a change in election rules last year.
In the past, non-votes were essentially counted as votes against the union. Under the new rules, the union must win support from a majority of those who cast votes, rather than from a majority of all workers eligible to vote.
Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University, said that because the union elections covered so many workers -- some 50,000 between Delta's flight attendants, customer service agents, reservations agents, baggage handlers and others -- that "it's certainly not the type of thing where Delta could sit back and say, ‘Whatever happens, happens.'"
"It's so important to Delta, but it's also so important to the labor movement to have a victory," Chaison said. "I think everybody probably went a little extra overboard on this one."