Mixed Ruling on Delta Unions' Status

The National Mediation Board weighs in on union representation since the airline's merger with Northwest.
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The National Mediation Board issued a split decision for

Delta

(DAL) - Get Report

, determining that the merged airline is now a single carrier for some work groups, but still two carriers for others.

Both sides claimed victory after the ruling Wednesday, which follows the October merger of Delta and Northwest. The ruling anticipates that 2009 will bring union representation elections among work groups including flight attendants, mechanics, agents and fleet service workers, but on a schedule favored by the unions rather than by the carrier.

However, for pilots, dispatchers and several smaller groups, Delta is already a single carrier, the ruling asserts. The airline, the Air Line Pilots Association and the smaller groups wanted the designation in order to facilitate the merger of their respective groups, which will more quickly bring operational efficiencies to the airline.

In form, the ruling is a narrow one, recognizing the requests for single carrier status, but not extending the designation. By exclusion, the decision provides the International Association of Machinists and the Flight Attendants Association with more time to organize.

Before the merger, Delta was largely non-union, except for its pilots and dispatchers. Northwest, by contrast, was heavily unionized: Even its meteorologists have a union.

The ruling follows long-standing precedent, says Joe Tiberi, spokesman for the IAM, the largest airline union, which will seek as many as a half-dozen elections among various Delta work groups.

"This is in keeping with decades of practice at the board, which can only determine single carrier status after a union presents an application," Tiberi said. "They found for the unions that made an application, but it was not the right time to make that decision for the unions that did not apply."

Delta also applauded the decision. "This decision supports Delta's position and that of five unions representing pre-merger Delta and Northwest employees that Delta and Northwest have combined, and is another important step in allowing our employees to have a voice in resolving representation issues," the carrier said, in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, the Association of Flight Attendants said "the decision not extend to the pilots' application to flight attendants and the entire Delta workforce rightly puts the decision of union representation back into the hands of Northwest and Delta flight attendants.

"This important election should not be left up to a third party or a new management team who has much to gain by prematurely advancing an election for union representation," the union said in a prepared statement.