ATLANTA ( TheStreet) -- Hours after losing a representation election at Delta ( DAL), the Association of Flight Attendants charged that the carrier intimidated workers in violation of federal labor law and said it wants a re-run. Delta conducted "the largest anti-union campaign that this country has ever seen," said AFA President Pat Friend, on a conference call with reporters. "The amount of intimidation that these
flight attendants experienced is unprecedented.
"When you have a corporation willing to spend any amount necessary, millions and millions, to prevent or persuade their workers to vote against having a voice in the workplace, it's not a level playing field," Friend said. Within a few weeks, the union will seek an investigation of the election by the National Mediation Board, said AFA attorney Ed Gilmartin. That investigation could take a few months. If the union's charges are validated, another election would follow. Gilmartin said that the union complained about Delta's tactics during the election, but the NMB's normal procedure is to wait until after an election to investigate. Turnout for the election was an extraordinarily high 94%. In Delta's favor, 9.544 flight attendants voted for no representation. In the AFA's favor, 9,216 voted for representation. Of those, 8,778 voted for the AFA, while 438 wrote in the names of a variety of airline unions; several even wrote in "AFA." Friend said all of the pro-representation votes were allocated to the union getting the most votes, so that Delta flight attendants "came within 328 votes of certifying a union." Many observers had
expected the union to win the election. But the airline conducted a massive "Decision 2010" campaign, urging flight attendants to vote and in some cases, to vote online after accessing the NMB's site through the company's employee website, union officials and flight attendants said during the conference call. Gilmartin suggested that Delta could track employee votes, but Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin refuted the notion. "The AFA's claims are ridiculous. Delta did not track anyone's votes," she said. "These are the same computers used by flight attendants in the 2008 election -- to which the AFA didn't object. The AFA clearly plans to continue its fear and smear campaign, even after our flight attendants have decided." The grounds for the union's complaint, Gilmartin said, are that while "the company has the right to communicate its preference, it becomes unlawful when that overwhelms an employee's ability to freely choose."
The company's campaign, he said, included calls from supervisors to employees urging "no" votes, supervisors wearing "No Way AFA" buttons and promises "that if you don't have the union, things will be better." Additionally, San Diego-based Delta flight attendant Toni Weinfurtner said busses that transport workers from an employee lot to the airport were covered with "Decision 2010" banners, an employee lounge was "plastered" with banners, employee computer screens were subject to pop-ups saying "Don't forget to vote," the company distributed anti-union buttons and supervisors called every flight attendant asking them to vote. "They didn't say 'vote no,' but they made their position clear," Weinfurtner said. "It was all over their blog
that a direct relationship benefited us more than a union would ... We all know how the company wants us to vote." Laughlin said that Delta "launched a significant education campaign after a major change to the voting rules. "Our communication encouraged employees to vote, regardless of whether they planned to cast a yes or no ballot," Laughlin said. "We wanted 100% turnout so we could truly understand how our employees felt about representation. Today 18,760 people told us how they feel. The AFA should respect that choice." The AFA election would not be the first in which Delta was found to have acted improperly. In February, the International Association of Machinists challenged the results of a February election in which about 90 flight simulator technicians voted not to unionize. The three-member NMB unanimously found that Delta's conduct interfered with its employees' free choice. The election was re-run in August and September, and the union lost for a second time. The 2010 flight attendant election marked the AFA's third loss at Delta. The union got 29% of the vote in 2002 and about 40% in 2008. But a 2008 merger with Northwest brought in 7,000 unionized flight attendants to Delta, which now has about 20,000 flight attendants. In May, the NMB altered a 75-year-old labor law. The change means that in union representation elections, the outcome will be based on the votes of a majority of the workers who participate -- rather than requiring a majority of eligible voters. It used to be that unions had to wage "get out the vote" campaigns against democracy's most insidious opponent: apathy. But the ruling meant the burden shifted, because it is now up to companies to battle apathy. -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed