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Vol. 74/No. 46      December 6, 2010

Union vote at Delta again
falls short of majority
MINNEAPOLIS—In a 5,024-5,569 vote, baggage handlers and ramp workers at Delta Air Lines lost a widely contested vote for representation by the International Association of Machinists (IAM). Earlier in November, flight attendants from the combined workforces of Delta and Northwest Airlines—roughly 20,000 workers—decided not to join the Association of Flight Attendants by an even narrower margin.

“With the number of ‘no’ votes combined with those that didn’t vote, those of us who are pro-union did not reach enough of our coworkers to convince them of the importance of having a union,” said Marty Knaeble, a Delta baggage handler.

The election was the first in the airline industry where a union is recognized if a majority of the votes cast are in favor. In the past, workers in the airlines and the railroads who didn’t vote were counted as “no” votes. With this change, many were confident a majority would vote for the union.

Knaeble said workers “were just beginning to absorb the blow they had been dealt.” He said the fact that Delta workers were given a raise in the fall, resulting in wages about $3 per hour more than unionized workers from Northwest, was also a factor. This may have swayed workers to vote against the union.

Of the 13,000 baggage handlers, 81 percent voted in the election. About 5,000 of the workers were working under a union contract. In 2008 Delta’s largely nonunionized workforce of nearly 34,000 merged with Northwest’s 16,700 unionized workers.

“I thought we had a better chance of winning,” said Roland Baker, a ramp worker for 20 years, mostly with Northwest Airlines. “It really hurts to see this.”

“This affects us, but also all working people,” said Tony White, a ramp worker with 13 years. “We’ve been union for so long, now we’re nonunion.

White said he wished he had been “more involved in building support for the union. I did some phone banking but I should have done more.”

Baker said that he wasn’t sure what should be done now. “We’ll wait and see. For sure we know the company will go after us, especially our work rules.”

Davie Lee, who has worked at Northwest for 16 years, said the union vote was “a blow.” As for what should be done, Lee said “we have to starting fighting, something we haven’t really done yet. We need to figure out how to bring the union back.”

The two election defeats mean that about 33,000 formerly organized workers are now without a union.

There are two more votes. Voting by 700 stock and store clerks ends November 22 and the IAM is seeking union representation for 16,500 customer service workers, 5,000 of whom are from Northwest. Voting ends December 7.  
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