It’s interesting to me that in one breath the union representing United Airlines flight attendants applauds the recent announcement by Delta Air Lines that it will pay flight attendants during boarding, attacks it, and claims credit for it.
United Airlines Flight Attendants Union Walks Fine Line Over Recent Pay Bump At Delta Air Lines
Flight attendants at Delta have rejected unionization efforts for years. One reason that such unionization has failed is because these flight attendants enjoy better pay and benefits than their unionized peers, including lucrative profit sharing bonuses. There’s also a sense that Delta actually takes care of its employees. Last week, Delta announced that it would pay flight attendants for their time during passenger boarding, a period which has historically been unpaid and remains unpaid for Delta’s competitors.
In a note to its United members, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) lauds the move by Delta and indirectly admits it has been unable to win such pay for its own members, arguing that it has instead focused on preserving the status quo in an era of cutbacks, consolidation, and pandemic:
Earlier this week, Delta management announced they would begin paying their Flight Attendants boarding pay at half the rate of flight time pay. This is a good thing, and, in our view, all Flight Attendants should receive boarding pay. After all, this has been a priority for Flight Attendants for at least the last twenty years.
However, since 9/11 we’ve been consumed with battling management at the bargaining table to keep that which we’ve previously accomplished during negotiations.
I’m not sure how much of a priority it has been, particularly because more senior FAs stand to gain far less because they tend to work fewer flights and longer flights (less boarding time overall per month and the reason for not demanding pay during boarding has always been so that flight attendants can earn more pay during the actual flight).
The AFA now says it is working with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents flight attendants at American Airlines, to “advance our priorities” and “advance our demands.” Yet nowhere does the AFA state that it is demanding boarding pay commensurate with Delta.
And that’s all well and good. It is not wholly unreasonable that a union is vested in taking care of its long-term members : seniority has advantages. But the AFA loses much credibility by then attacking Delta’s pay bump as merely trying to hide the fact it is increasing boarding time on some fights:
So, one asks, “What the rest of the story?” Shrouded by this announcement is the fact that Delta management has increased passenger boarding time from 35 to 40 minutes and this announcement is their attempt to tamper back the angry reaction it deserves from Flight Attendants.
Seriously? Flight attendants are being paid for this time – the entire time. Junior flight attendants who may work multiple flights a day will see a substantial increase in their paycheck. Why would commencing boarding five minutes earlier to promote on-time departures and paying flight attendants for that time cause any anger?
Then the AFA proceeds to take credit for Delta’s move, arguing its pressure to unionize prompted Delta to make this change:
Further, this decision is unquestionably tied to AFA’s ongoing effort in organizing Delta Flight Attendants. In fact, it can be argued this is Delta’s effort to beat back the Amazon and Starbucks trend at the airline.
So let me get this straight: Delta’s move should be applauded, but it really to hide the fact that boarding will start earlier, but the AFA should receive the credit because Delta’s move must be a response to its unionization drives amongst flight attendants?
Count me as incredulous.
In theory, unions provide great protection to workers, keeping companies in check and ensuring that contractual agreements are upheld. Ideally, airline unions also push safety standards in order to maximize passenger safety and pushback against any efforts to cut corners.
At the same time, Delta has found a way to pay its flight attendants more, allow them to keep even more of their money (no union dues), and keep more money for itself…it represents an ideal model.
The AFA warns that “in the absence of a contract, there is no commitment to lock in this pay factor for Delta Flight Attendants. It’s a stark reminder that Delta management, in the same manner in which it was implemented, has the ability to unilaterally end the boarding pay, at their sole discretion…”
That’s reasonable. But it would not be simply fear over unionization that would keep Delta from pulling back. Rather, it is the realization we see in a micro and macro ways across the economy that when workers are taken care of, they become more loyal, work harder, and everyone benefits.
The bottom line is that unions provide important safeguards against corporate overreach, but when corporations play nice, which Delta sees in its best interest, unionization will not benefit Delta workers. Even if we stipulate that Delta’s move is predicated on fear over unionization, Delta flight attendants become “free riders” (benefiting from unions at other airlines) and it still does not make financial sense for them to sacrifice a portion of their paycheck for union protection they do not currently need.
With Delta’s latest move to pay flight attendants for boarding, it will likely stave off aggressive unionization efforts by the AFA. At the this time, it seems that benefits not only Delta, but Delta flight attendants. The move has left unions like the AFA on the defensive, trying to downplay what Delta has done and warn that such gains may be illusory. I think the better approach would be to focus on wining such benefits for its own members.
image: United Airlines