ATLANTA -- The union that represents Northwest Airlines ( NWA) flight attendants is suing Delta Air Lines ( DAL) to block the world's biggest carrier from starting the process to integrate the two carriers' seniority lists until the combined group is given the opportunity to vote on union representation. Northwest's 8,000 flight attendants are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, while Delta's 14,000 flight attendants are not part of any union. Atlanta-based Delta bought Northwest for $2.8 billion in stock on Oct. 29. Federal rules allow for a post-merger union election involving workers from two different airlines if, among other things, it is determined that a single carrier exists. But in its suit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on Friday, the AFA-CWA said it has not yet filed its application with the National Mediation Board seeking a single carrier determination that would prompt a union representation vote. It noted Delta has not yet obtained a single operating certificate from the FAA. Therefore, the AFA-CWA said efforts by Delta to start the seniority integration process are premature. The lawsuit cites a Nov. 11 letter from Michael Campbell, Delta's executive vice president of human resources and labor relations, to the head of Northwest's chapter of the AFA-CWA in which Campbell suggested having an initial seniority list integration meeting in early December between Delta, the AFA-CWA and a group of 14 Delta flight attendants who would represent all pre-merger Delta flight attendants. "By initiating the seniority integration process prior to NMB resolution of the representation matter, Delta seeks to force AFA to take a position which may benefit pre-merger Northwest flight attendants to the detriment of the unrepresented Delta workforce and thereby influence the unrepresented Delta flight attendants in an effort to induce them not to vote for AFA in the event of a representation dispute," the lawsuit says.
It adds, "Such action constitutes unlawful interference with and influence over the choice of its employees' bargaining representative." The lawsuit also claims that Delta "initiated, organized and sponsored the election" of the representatives of the pre-merger Delta flight attendants, and that the carrier also is "financing the costs of the committee, including compensation for flight attendants elected to the committee." Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said Monday in an email to The Associated Press that Delta believes the AFA-CWA's position regarding when the seniority list integration process should begin is wrong as a matter of law and does not serve the interests of the combined flight attendant group. "Seniority integration is one of the top issues on employees' minds, and resolving seniority and representation issues promptly will allow all employees to more quickly benefit from the merger," Talton said. No hearings were immediately scheduled in the lawsuit, which seeks payment of attorneys fees, a court judgment declaring Delta's actions unlawful and an injunction to stop Delta from proceeding with the flight attendant seniority integration process until union representation of the combined carrier is resolved. Along with the AFA-CWA, a Delta flight attendant from Park City, Utah, is listed as a plaintiff. When Delta was a standalone company, its flight attendants failed in the past to get sufficient votes to join a union. The latest attempt failed in results announced in May. Not enough of the eligible flight attendants voted, and therefore the results, despite showing overwhelming support for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA from those who did vote, did not meet the certification requirements of the NMB. A similar effort in late 2001 was rejected in election results announced on Feb. 1, 2002.
Northwest's flight attendants have been represented by the AFA-CWA since 2006. The pilots at Delta and Northwest, meanwhile, are waiting to hear from an arbitration panel that will decide how the two sides' seniority lists will be combined. Both groups are represented by chapters of the Air Line Pilots Association. A decision is expected by Dec. 8.