Delta Air Lines paid out $1.3 billion in profit sharing to employees Thursday, amounting to a bonus of 14 percent of annual pay for each employee.
It's the airline's second-highest profit sharing total, after a 2016 payout of $1.5 billion.
In metro Atlanta, the company's employees will get a total payout of $456 million.
It's the fifth consecutive year Delta has paid out more than $1 billion in profit sharing to workers — a key part of what helps the company to attract and retain workers in a competitive labor market.
"It's not just the size of the check that's so important, but it's what it represents," said Delta chief human resources officer Joanne Smith at an employee event. "It's about all of us pulling together in a tough year." The company has struggled to increase profit margins amid fuel price volatility.
The bonuses come after Delta reported $3.9 billion in net income for 2018. The profit sharing is based on the company's $5.2 billion in pre-tax income for 2018.
The company holds its annual profit sharing day on Feb. 14 with employee celebrations at different locations.
Flight attendant Jeffery Bligh-Jones said he plans to use his bonus to pay for his wedding and honeymoon, and to prepare to buy a house.
“It shows how much our leaders value us,” Bligh-Jones said.
Ramp agent Kathelene Conwell said she’ll use part of her payout to take her sons to Fogo de Chao in Buckhead for Valentine’s Day, and to go on a cruise in May. She intends to save the rest.
Delta also announced it will begin paying employees to volunteer one day a year with a 501(c)3 or international nonprofit of their choice.
It's a benefit some other companies offer. According to a survey by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) and the Conference Board of multibillion-dollar companies, 65 percent said they had paid-release time volunteer programs, though policies vary.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian has focused on bolstering Delta's offerings to attract millennials as customers and employees.
“I think a lot of people want to do business and give their business to companies that do good things, that they’re proud to support,” Bastian said.
With the airline’s 80,000 employees eligible, Delta said the program starting April 1 could yield up to 640,000 hours of service in communities, including up to 251,000 hours in the Atlanta area.
Bastian said the community helped Delta when it was struggling — the airline went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy between 2005 and 2007, and faced financial challenges after emerging.
The community "put its arms around Delta, raising us back up to life," Bastian said.
Ten years ago, “Honestly I never dreamed that we’d get to the point where we could be doing these types of things,” Bastian said. “It just simply didn’t seem possible.”
The company has partnered with Junior Achievement offshoot 3DE, the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations that employees can volunteer with. Workers can also choose to volunteer with a nonprofit of their choice.
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