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Yet Another Union Complaint Against Delta Generates More Noise

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the union trying to organize flight attendants at Delta (DAL) had charged that the company interfered with the election as a desperate attempt to find a way to win. I saw little merit to that complaint, but now we have another one from another failed election. This one has a bit more meat, but I still fail to see how it would have changed the outcome.

This time, the complaint comes from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) regarding the election results by fleet service workers, the guys who work on the ramp under the wing. You can read the entire complaint as sent to the National Mediation Board (NMB).

In this election, the IAM lost with 5,569 voting against representation and 5,024 in favor. Seems close yet still decisive, but as in every other union election, the IAM is unwilling to accept the results. This time, there were 12 different accusations of wrongdoing on the part of the company.

The IAM strategy seems to be to throw as many complaints, no matter how small, into the pot in order to convince the NMB that there was widespread wrongdoing, or at least enough to require a new election. Unfortunately for the IAM, this volume strategy seems to obscure the few nuggets of substance. Of course, it doesn't matter what I think but only what the NMB thinks.

Most of the claims seem to be thin at best and downright misleading at worst. A good example of the latter is the first claim that "Delta Repeatedly Commanded That Their Employees 'Must Vote'." That's a outright twisting of the facts. The actual wording used by Delta, as explained by the union in the complaint, was this:

Decision 2010 Whether you are casting a YES or NO vote you MUST VOTE to be counted.
That's right. Apparently the IAM feels that by using capital letters, employees are instantly going to believe they have to vote and will fail to read the rest of the sentence. Give me a break. The whole point of Delta's campaign was to make sure employees knew that if they didn't vote, their votes wouldn't be counted. This is a new rule that went into effect this year (previously if you didn't vote it counted as a "no" vote), so you would expect Delta to really try to hammer that message home.

All this charge does is weaken the overall case even though there are other charges that might have more validity.

For example, the fourth complaint says that Delta prevented former Northwest employees (and current union members) from voting on company computers at former Northwest hubs while permitting Delta employees (and currently non-union members) to do it at old Delta hubs. That complaint sounds like corporate policy gone awry, if it's true. I imagine that legacy Northwest systems only allowed higher level employees to surf the web while on duty but the same restrictions weren't on legacy Delta employees. In the merger, I would assume that not everything has been harmonized yet.

If, however, the allegation is true, well, that's a different story. It would be worth looking to see how many ex-Northwest employees failed to vote and whether or note this would have changed the turnout and ultimately the outcome. That is, of course, for the NMB to decide if it's worthwhile.

But the complaints that have potential validity in my eyes seem few and far between. Many of the complaints were by individuals against individuals. When you have an enormous operation, you're bound to have some employees that fail to follow the letter of the law exactly. This is still the responsibility of the company, but the question is - do any of those matter? For example:

On December 11, 2009, an employee was told to remove his Union Yes pin by manager Paul Williams.
This is the kind of thing that may not have been technically allowable, but it was a single person's action and not coming directly from the company. That's no excuse, of course, but did that somehow impact the vote? Did it cause people to vote against the union because it couldn't see the "Union Yes" pin? I can't imagine that's the case. These are just ticky-tack objections.

In the end, there might be a couple valid complaints, depending upon what the further evidence shows, but I find it hard to believe that it could have impacted the outcome. It's not clear, however, that it matters. I'll explore more about the union election process tomorrow.

All this does is tie up valuable time and resources at the NMB. In the end, if another election is ordered, I bet we end up with the same results.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Jamesdbay/CC-BY-SA-3.0