Delta Air Lines has been able to persuade enough of its flight attendants to ignore a massive union organising drive, defeating the largest membership campaign since airline deregulation.

Although the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) won 98% of the votes cast, the total was still short of a majority, because only 5,600 of 19,000 attendants voted. Under US National Mediation Board rules, a union wins recognition only if 51% of those eligible vote for it.

Unions complain that the USA's new-found patriotism has been good for Delta: management supervisors, through constant appeals to post-attack unity, persuaded some attendants not to vote, says AFA president Pat Friend. Managers also intimidated others, according to Nancy Lenk, a union organiser in Atlanta. She says: "They used patriotism as a way to overkill, saying things like: How could you even think about voting for a union after 11 September? That sort of offends me." The union has tried since 1998 to organise Delta, and officially kicked off its campaign last August.

Delta denies any wrongdoing, but the union has accused it of interference. Lenk could not say if the union would mount another campaign. In urging the workers not to vote, Delta had stressed the fact that it kept lay-offs to a minimum by developing a way for voluntary furloughs to meets its needs.

The airline is now the least unionised of any major US carrier, with only the Air Line Pilots Association representing a significant number of its employees.

It is not clear if the union defeat is solely due to patriotism. Delta has always been non-union and, in 2000, it's ramp and cargo employees rejected two efforts by the Transport Workers Union to enlist them.

Source: Airline Business