Union wants to represent flight attendants at Delta; airline says workers 'deserve better'

IndustriesAssociated Press

The International Association of Machinists says it has enough support from Delta Air Lines flight attendants to force a union-representation election.

Delta has more than 20,000 flight attendants, a huge group of nonunion workers in the heavily unionized U.S. airline industry. The machinists' union said Tuesday that it got pro-election signatures from nearly 12,000 of them, more than the 50 percent required.

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The union said it expects the National Mediation Board to order an election within six weeks. The union said it would be the largest organizing win ever in the transportation sector.

Pro-union organizers among the flight attendants said the cabin crews have contributed to Delta's record profits but lag union counterparts at other airlines in wages, benefits and work rules. They vowed to secure an industry-best contract.

Atlanta-based Delta said that its flight attendants have gotten larger pay hikes since 2007 than their counterparts at other airlines and get the best profit-sharing plan in the business. It said the machinists were rejected by all five Delta work groups that they sought to represent after Delta combined with Northwest in 2008.

In a statement, Delta senior vice president Allison Ausband said the machinists were eager to get $12 million a year in dues from the workers, but "our flight attendants deserve better than the IAM."

At Delta, the pilots are the only major work group represented by a union. Flight attendants at Northwest were union before Delta bought that carrier in 2008, but attendants at the combined airline narrowly rejected a union bid in 2010. That was the third organizing defeat at Delta for the Association of Flight Attendants — it also lost in 2002 and 2008.