By DAVID A. COOK
Last week, Delta Airlines became briefly infamous on social media. It’s easy to forget how fast messages can move in the digital world, and Delta was reminded just how quickly a bad message can circulate around the globe.
In an anti-union poster targeting employees (see the photo at right), Delta suggested that their employees buy a video game console instead of joining a union. Before long, hundreds of thousands of users on Twitter had seen the poster, and even more had shared it across Facebook and Instagram.
Traditional media like NBC, USA Today and Newsweek all wrote stories about the poster and the largely negative response it received. Delta was shamed by union and non-union people alike for pushing such a ridiculous message on employees in the midst of a union campaign.
The conversation that arose around this absurd message was refreshing to see. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people – many of which were not union members — rightly pointed out that this message was patronizing, out-of-touch and dishonest.
ANTI-UNION TACTICS TARGET YOUNG WORKERS
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Employees (IAM) has been working to unionize flight attendants and ramp and cargo agents, but has met with stiff resistance from the billion-dollar company.
Many of these workers are disproportionately young, and some of them are responsible for helping planes carry passengers across the country and are making as little as $9/hour. Delta — a company that paid its CEO $22 million in 2017 — seems to think that their employees would be better off buying a PlayStation than joining a union.
Photos of other posters from Delta quickly began to circulate. One told workers to use their $700 in union dues to “buy a few rounds” with friends and watch football. Others suggested that rather than join a union, Delta workers should spend dues money to go to a baseball game or the movies.
For those of us who know the value of a union family it’s a message that is patently ludicrous. Even factoring in differences in education and industry, union workers make 13 percent more on average than their non-union counterparts. So even a minimum wage worker spending $700 annually on union dues is making a smart investment in job security and increasing their wages and benefits.
People who saw Delta’s post were shocked, offended and even angry. In what universe do people think it’s alright to talk down to employees by implying that mindless entertainment should be given more consideration than union membership? Even someone who doesn’t endorse or agree with the purpose of unions would have to agree one is substantially more important to the current labor landscape than the other.
UNION GROWTH ISN’T EASY
What too many people don’t realize is just how common these kinds of messages are during organizing campaigns.
Ask any union organizer, and they’ll tell you this was not isolated or unusual. Most of them can tell you about five handouts or mailers they’ve seen employers send out that were even worse.
This is what a union family faces when it tries to grow. Hard-working men and women reach out to us with the same story over and over: They aren’t treated fairly at work, their employer has stripped them of their benefits or slashed their pay, and they don’t know what to do other than try to join a union.
And as they begin to sign authorization cards and head toward an election, their company ramps up their efforts to stop them. They hold mandatory meetings and pressure employees to vote against joining a union. They tell them their workplace might close for good, or they’ll lose whatever little benefits they currently have if they dare to vote “yes” to unionize.
Companies routinely tell lies or half-truths about what you will pay in dues, or what union members make.
It’s not easy to grow a union family when a company behaves this way, but it’s about time the public and rank-and-file union members got a glimpse at the lengths a company will go to in order to keep their employees under their thumb.
Delta learned last week just how fast and harsh the backlash can be. When you see anti-union propaganda, make sure you call it out. When you hear about an organizing campaign, show your support.
And in the meantime, think twice before flying Delta.