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."