Union files interference charges against Delta

The International Association of Machinists union has filed interference charges with the National Mediation Board alleging Delta Air Lines has run an unlawful anti-union campaign.

The complaint comes after the union last week tweeted an image of a Delta flyer in an employee break room that suggested workers spend their money on a new video game system instead of on union dues.

 

Delta came under fire from union supporters on social media for the flyer, drawing criticism from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.,  and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., among others.

“Last week, the public was able to see what many behind the walls of Delta have always known; that Delta will go to great lengths to suppress their employees’ collective voices,” the IAM said in a written statement.

On Wednesday, Sanders and fellow U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., wrote a letter to Delta CEO Ed Bastian expressing “serious concerns regarding Delta’s insulting and demeaning communications directed at the airline’s non-union workforce” and urging him “to end Delta’s anti-union tactics.” Sen. Kamala Harris wrote a similar letter to Bastian calling the airline’s campaign “disingenuous, disrespectful and misleading.”

Not all of the tweets in response to the union’s post were critical of the flyer. Some voiced support for Delta and raised concerns about unions.

The IAM has been trying for years to unionize Delta’s flight attendants and baggage handlers.

Delta’s pilots are its only major unionized employee group, and the company has long resisted unionization efforts among other workers. The airline launched a campaign urging workers not to sign cards to call for a unionization vote, and has launched apps and a website called “Don’t risk it. Don’t sign it.”

The union alleges that the company conducts surveillance of employees, that Delta managers have photographed those participating in union activities, and that the company has singled out and terminated union activists. 

Delta in written comments called the IAM’s interference claims “completely baseless.”

“We respect our employees’ right to choose whether or not union representation is right for them and we believe that same respect should be shown by the IAM,” Delta said. “We will continue to lawfully communicate with our employees and defend our federally protected right to educate them on the truth.”

An employer can communicate views on unionism or specific views about a particular union. However, under National Mediation Board rules, employees are guaranteed the right to organize without interference of management.

The National Mediation Board, which governs airline labor relations, says on its website that it investigates allegations of interference only after ballots have been counted in a unionization election, “except in extraordinary circumstances.” 

The union has not yet filed for a unionization election, so workers have not yet voted and no ballots have been counted. But the union alleges there are “extreme circumstances” warranting action by the National Mediation Board.

The mediation board’s website, in the “frequently asked questions” section, describes what election interference is and says the board “has found election interference where the carrier: conducts improper surveillance of employees; interrogates employees; discharges or disciplines employees; confers benefits on employees, and; solicits or collects ballots.”

It’s not the first time the IAM has filed interference charges against Delta.

In 2010, the National Mediation Board determined that Delta had interfered in a union election among its flight simulator technicians, and ordered the election to be rerun.

The union has struggled to organize Delta workers.

The IAM in 2015 withdrew a request for an election to organize Delta flight attendants, then the National Mediation Board asked the U.S. Justice Department to look into the possibility that fraudulent signatures were used to petition for the election. The union acknowledged at the time that some of the cards had insufficient information or questionable signatures.

Delta in its comments Wednesday alleged the IAM had “submitted more than 2,000 cards with forged signatures during their last attempt to organize at Delta.”

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