Delta’s Anti-Union Messaging is Way Off

Delta is they could buy video games with that money.

That hasn’t gone over well. I think we can all agree that’s a rather dumb and patronizing approach. I think my favorite comment was, “Delta’s CEO got paid 44,000 Nintendo Switches last year.”

Why not make the same argument this way?

  • Factor inflation and multiply the $700 out over the average Delta employee career. Tell employees they’re going to pay the $42,000 while they’re working for Delta.

  • And then do the math on what they could do with that $42,000 instead. An employee investing it at a 7% annual rate of return will wind up with about $190,000.

So Delta simply says union dues will effectively cost each employee $190,000 over their career. Thanks to profit sharing, they are already the best paid in the industry. They didn’t need to give up $190,000 to get that.

  • They’re making as much as they can (based on industry comparables) without a union
  • A union will cost them
  • It will cost the company, too
  • And profit sharing is what’s driving the ability to compensate employees at current levels

If employees want to be paid like their unhappy unionized peers at American Airlines and pay $190,000 for the privilege, Delta supports the right of workers to decide for themselves.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @gary – it seems someone at Delta has seriously offended you, or wrecked your car, or killed your pet, or something completely unforgivable. If you really feel they could narrate the story better then just say that; your headlines make it seem like Delta can do nothing right.

  2. Agreed. This seems like the first idea in a brainstorming session and somehow it ended up on an official Delta pamphlet.

    If I was a union rep I would fire back with “Delta wants you to be irresponsible with your hard earned money. Why not do the responsible thing and put some of it towards your future and your day to day job satisfaction?!” However untrue that actually is, it’s better than the video-game jab.

  3. Curious about your math. If you’ve already factored in inflation in the $42k, then you should be adjusting the 7% return for it as well. Unless you are trying to claim the investments will earn 7% above inflation, which seems optimistic.

  4. They might be paid the best, but are benefits the best? There’s more to compensation than pay.

  5. @Sco – the amount being taken from employees will rise so that $700 today is higher in subsequent years, meaning more money taken from checks that could have been invested.

  6. @Uncle Jeff is spot on.

    I just returned from Germany (3 months there) and no matter what level of employee, manager, or supervisor I spoke with, all supported unions. The theory is that the under-performing workers will be pressured by their peers to work harder. They all receive excellent compensation in terms of benefits, and that helps maintain morale. From the lowliest to the highest worker, they refer to themselves as “colleagues” and take a lot of pride in doing their jobs well. They also believe unions and industry can work well together to achieve common goals, it is not an us vs. them mentality. The German machine works!

    I don’t know why that same mentality doesn’t work over this side of the pond (sigh).

  7. Wow, more “free market” anti-union drivel from Gary. Sad that he always has to bring out this ugly side of his personal beliefs instead of focusing on what his readers really care about. . .

  8. @Alex – what do you disagree with in this analysis? By the way if I were a flight attendant at American Airlines i wouldn’t give up the union. But I think there’s a much more persuasive case that Delta can and should make to their employees than the one in this sign.

  9. @KimmieA you can’t expect different cultures to behave the same. There are incredible levels of drive in German, Swiss, and Japanese cultures (not an exhaustive list) that don’t exist in all cultures. I also realize suicide rates are high in Japan. Point is not all cultures are the same…

  10. It’s a stupid example they used but unions do put their jobs and futures in danger. Most of the airlines that have failed save for WOW air have been because problems with the pilot, flight attendant and maintained unions. When airlines are preventing from making changes in a down economy because of unions that is why some big airlines have gone bankrupt twice in the last 20 years. It’s why the big 3 tend to have subpar cabin crews compared to their European and Asian counterparts. I saw a 65 year old flight attendant on international long haul business class on American 2 months ago on an 11 hour flight. That is because of unions.

  11. Gary,
    Your fundamental position that being in a union is bad for the industry and bad for the employees is just wrong.

    As other readers have already posted there are plenty of examples of great airlines that have unionized employees. The problems that already exist in an organization are the reason why employees unionize, “good employers” don’t have unions because their employees don’t think there is a need.

    And your analysis about paying union dues vs getting that in your pocket over time is also totally flawed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that other than private sector management employees pretty much all other workers get higher pay when they are in a union:

    Finally, union members have contracts that guarantee certain rights including wages and benefits. Without a union your wages and benefits can be changed with no recourse. The risk of losing wages is in fact much higher without a union. Dues protect those rights by supporting your union.

  12. @Alex you quite misunderstand me. If I were at American as an employee I would not give up my union. Delta employees are in a different spot, and aren’t likely to do better in terms of compensation with a union.

  13. As an AA manager, I agree with Delta on this one. We as a company are always comparing ourselves to DL in every field. One of the reasons DL is so good as a company is if you don’t belong there, they don’t keep you. We have agents here who have done nothing for the last 30 years, hate their job, hate people, but because they make 32.00 an hour and do just enough to get by the union protects their job. DL employees have the best compensation package in the industry hands down, without competition. The only thing the union is going to do is turn their customer service into what we have at AA and UA. Won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, soon enough AA, DL and UA will be indistinguishable thanks to the union.

    DL employees, you’re doing pretty well. Don’t vote these leeches in.

  14. Gary, the fact that you feel the need to make a post about how Delta could improve their anti-union messaging clearly shows your feelings about unions. The post offers no useful information about travel for your readers, so the only point you made was that you are anti-union. And taking the selfish position that because Delta offers similar benefits to other unionized airlines is again missing the whole point. Those unionized airlines bring up the wages and standard of living for everyone, not just the unionized airline employees. If every employee said I can “freeload” and not have a union but get the benefits then there would be no unions. With no unions the wages and benefits would fall for everyone. Sometimes people have to be a part of a greater good and not just look at their individual immediate bottom line.

  15. @Alex “Those unionized airlines bring up the wages and standard of living for everyone” bear in mind that Delta’s non-union flight attendants are earning more than American’s and United’s unionized ones, and American has given mid-cycle raises to its employees playing catch up with non-union employees outside of the collective bargaining process.

  16. Gary, wages are not the only form of compensation and it’s common for non union employees to pay a little more in wages because they offer far worse (or no) benefits compared to the unionized employers. They other item you aren’t recognizing is that there are non economic issues that unions can help address by giving employees a voice. Clearly something is making Delta employees want to consider unionizing and if it isn’t wages than management is clearly doing something else to notice this effort. Either way my point is that you are clearly promoting an anti-union message and that is unfortunate.

  17. @alex Delta employees are not lacking in benefits, either. My point isn’t about unions or not, as I say I wouldn’t give up one at American, but employees do seem to do *materially* better at Delta, they’re not going to do better still with a union.

    I do recognize that SOME employees would be better off with a union, though it doesn’t seem the median Delta employee would be.

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