Ashton Therrel

In November of last year, Delta Flight Attendants voted against unionization. This was the third time in the past decade that the employees of Delta have defeated the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).

We defeated the attempt to unionize Delta despite a playing field that had been deliberately tilted in favor of the unions. The National Mediation Board (NMB) is a government entity that most have never heard of that oversees union elections for airlines and railroads. In 2009, the NMB issued a rule change on how union elections are held for airlines and railroads, which they clearly hoped would tilt the elections in favor of the union. The rule change was directly requested by the AFL-CIO in a private letter to this board in September 2009. The new rule permits a majority of those who vote rather than the majority of the workforce in an airline or railroad union election to determine whether or not a class or craft will be represented by a union.

The new rule was a significant change to the previous one, which was in effect for nearly 80 years – from the Roosevelt Administration to the present -- and required a majority of the entire class or craft to support union representation in order for a union to be certified. The new rule now means that of a workforce of 20,000, if only 5000 employees vote and 2501 vote for a union, those 2501 employees would determine the election outcome for the 20,000 employees.

Fortunately, there is some hope that this effort to unfairly tilt the playing field will be corrected by Congress reasserting its authority rather than allowing unionization by regulation. Recently, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted on an FAA reauthorization bill which included a provision (Title IX of the bill) that would simply restore the union election rules for rail and airlines that were in place at the National Mediation Board for over 75 years under Republican and Democrat Administrations alike. Efforts to strike this provision restoring the longstanding rules in committee were defeated. The previous election rules had a long and bipartisan history supported by important policy considerations to keep our key infrastructure operating without disruption.

I have joined leaders of the grassroots group “No Way AFA” to make sure our voices are heard and we don’t have unions forced on us against our will. It is unfortunate that even with a majority rejecting AFA representation and a very high voter turnout of 94 percent, AFA would not respect the choice of the majority, further delaying flight attendants from moving forward with full integration. In a bizarre twist, the AFA is even citing as interference the fact that there was a high voter turnout. In this brave new world of forced unionization, unions even oppose employees exercising their right to vote if it doesn’t turn out in their favor! It is profoundly insulting to essentially be told by the union and by our own government that unless we vote for a union, we don’t understand what we are doing and our voices will not be respected. This is simply not the American way.

Our grassroots action is an unprecedented display of worker independence that is continually ignored by union bosses who truly don’t respect workplace democracy or individual rights. But we are labor too and we have said “No” to this union – not once, but three times. What part of “No” don’t they understand? Is it only pro-union voters whose rights are respected? I was actually joined by fellow Flight attendants who both opposed the union, and who actually voted for the union, to protest this lack of respect for the outcome in the election. We have gone to Washington on our days off to demand that after being rejected in three separate secret ballot votes over the past few years, AFA respect the November 2010 rejection and refrain from any further attempts to harass flight attendants and disrupt the smooth assimilation of former Northwest Airlines Flight Attendants into the existing Delta Air Lines Flight Attendant system.

Basically we wanted to tell the union and Congress – Let our people go! It is beyond time for AFA to quit posturing, listen to their members and allow Delta to take care of their flight attendants, something that Delta has done for decades without union input. The truth is non-union Delta had pay and benefits that surpassed the formerly unionized Northwest – and we didn’t have the burden of monthly union dues draining our paychecks.

Not only have the flight attendants at Delta rejected unionization, but eight other employee groups at Delta Air Lines have also rejected union representation. And all of this has occurred despite a stacked deck of new rules. Yet this very same Board that stacked the deck now controls our fate if Congress doesn’t support restoring the prior election rules that the National Mediation Board operated under for decades. We call upon Congress to restore the long held rules, restore our rights and have our votes respected. Keep Title IX in the FAA Reauthorization bill and respect our right to say “no” to a union.

Ashton Therrel

Ashton Therrel is an Atlanta-based flight attendant.