The Association of Flight Attendants – Communications Workers of America (AFA-CWA) is trying to organize flight attendants at Delta. They are promising more money, less work and a pony. It costs them nothing to make promises, which are almost certainly not true. In reality, Delta’s cabin crew will pay for union representation, they won’t make as much money as they will under Delta’s unique model in the industry, and their work lives will be worse.
Every Delta flight attendant should ask, are cabin crew represented by AFA-CWA actually happier and better off at the myriad of airlines where the union represents them now – like United Airlines, Spirit, Frontier, and Mesa?
There are 6 basic reasons that flight attendants at Delta, following their self-interest, should reject unionization efforts by AFA-CWA:
- Unions are better as a threat than reality. Delta will pay to keep flight attendants happy enough not to vote for a union. But once they pull the trigger on the union that leverage is gone. And that is the end of unilateral pay increases, bonuses and other improvements.
- Flight attendants represented by AFA-CWA are deeply unhappy. AFA-CWA has a new scoring system at United which reports on flight attendant unhappiness at United. 91% of AFA-CWA union members at United feel unvalued by their company and 99% feel their issues are unresolved. Delta crew should ask if they want the experience of United crew that have been represented by AFA-CWA for years.
- Delta flight attendants don’t have to take on more work and suffer colleagues who shirk their duties now. The union plays on fear that anyone could be fired while protecting crew who don’t do their jobs and create hassle for flight attendants forced to pick up the slack.
- Adopting a union benefits senior crew at the expense of junior crew. The union pretends they extract from management but the airline pays market rate and well above in normal high profit times. Crew at other airlines are jealous of the big bonuses Delta flight attendants have received and now about boarding pay. There isn’t more for unions to take. On the other hand they do redistribute to older employees. Junior crew benefit more from boarding pay than senior crew, and that’s why flight attendants unions never really prioritized it while Delta provided it.
- The Delta environment, work rules and culture have set the airline apart from peers in the past. Change it and they become less profitable which means less money to distribute to crew.
- Delta crew won’t get more money. They may get a worse work experience. And they will lose money out of their pocket for the privilege.
AFA-CWA organizing is all about adding members, not making flight attendants better off. That’s why union head Sara Nelson favored Frontier taking over Spirit Airlines, rather than JetBlue – the former would have meant AFA-CWA representation, while JetBlue has a different union. A JetBlue deal means more money for many flight attendants but that wasn’t AFA-CWA’s goal!
AFA-CWA didn’t even manage to protect jobs. Its members were furloughed during the pandemic at United. Delta didn’t do furloughs.
Crew at Delta aren’t 19th century factory workers. Stories about the role of unions in the past don’t speak to whether there is something to add today. Sticking with an outmoded factory model has made competitors like United and American places where cabin crew are frequently unhappy to work.
Southwest is an outlier. They are union and people are still happy working there. They have a unique history and backstory as underdog they have manages to partially hold together. Replicating that is a long shot – but if it could happen at Delta then best case is things aren’t worse (but flight attendants are out of pocket to pay for union leadership and office overhead) – there is simply no upside for the majority of crew.