Delta legally threatens flight attendant union over sick leave dispute

A Delta flight boards at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Dec. 29, 2021. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)

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A Delta flight boards at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Dec. 29, 2021. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)

Delta Air Lines sent a cease-and-desist letter to a flight attendants union that criticized its sick leave policy.

Delta, concerned about staffing shortages over the holiday period, in December asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to amend its recommended isolation time for those who test positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days. The CDC on Dec. 27 made such an adjustment to its guidance.

The Association of Flight Attendants sent a letter to the CDC opposing the change and criticized Atlanta-based Delta’s efforts to shorten the wait period.

“We’re really concerned that’s going to put workers in a bad position of choosing whether to stay home and be safe and take good measures for public health, or be forced to come to work and feel like they’re going to lose their job if they don’t,” Sara Nelson, the union president, said on CNN.

The Association of Flight Attendants represents crewmembers at other airlines. It has been trying for years to unionize Delta flight attendants, frequently sparring with Delta management.

Nelson also tweeted on Jan. 7 that a Delta employee asked, “what do I do now? Delta making it extremely hard for us to do the right thing.”

Delta that same day sent a letter to AFA’s general counsel Edward Gilmartin requesting that the union “cease and desist from posting and promoting false and defamatory information about Delta Air Lines.”

“Recently AFA used Twitter to spread false and defamatory information regarding Delta’s COVID-19 policies. Specifically, AFA reported that Delta is telling employees testing positive for COVID-19 to come to work after five days even if they are still testing positive,” reads the letter signed by Delta chief legal officer Peter Carter.

The airline said in its letter that in the most recent version of its policy, it asks employees who test positive to isolate for five days, and asks those who test positive after five days to stay out of work and test again on the seventh day.

Nelson responded in a letter to Delta CEO Ed Bastian, “We believe our statements are truthful and accurate.” She added that it appeared the union called attention to issues that led Delta to update its policy several times.

Nelson wrote the union is “still getting questions from Delta flight attendants about returning to work with a low-grade fever” and Delta’s policy of recommending but not requiring a test to return to work.

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