United Flight Attendant Union Attacks Delta Over Boarding Pay

Several days ago, Delta Announced that it would start paying flight attendants during boarding, which is (surprisingly) otherwise not a standard practice in the US airline industry. United’s flight attendant union has now responded to this development with some rather strange claims.

Delta’s flight attendant boarding pay

Historically flight attendants in the United States haven’t been paid during boarding, but rather only start to get paid once the aircraft door closes. Delta is the first major US airline to change this:

  • Delta announced it would start paying flight attendants for the scheduled 40-50 minute boarding time, at half of the standard hourly rates
  • Delta is the only major US airline where flight attendants aren’t unionized, though over the years there have been several unionization efforts
  • Obviously Delta leading the way here was an attempt by management to keep flight attendants happy and encourage flight attendants not to unionize

Before we get into what United’s flight attendant union has put out, let me note that:

  • I’m pro-union, in the sense that I think flight attendants should be allowed to unionize if they want to, without being intimidated
  • I don’t necessarily think unionization is good and non-unionization is bad, or vice versa; Objectively Delta flight attendants on the whole are in a better spot than flight attendants at most other major US airlines, and they also provide significantly better service

With that in mind, let’s get into what United’s flight attendant union is claiming.

Delta flight attendants will now be paid during boarding

United flight attendant union responds to Delta

Obviously flight attendant unions are under pressure, because they haven’t been able to negotiate boarding pay, while Delta flight attendants are now proactively being offered this. So the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), representing United Airlines staff, has put out a memo to members about Delta’s development.

Presumably some members are wondering why they’re paying dues when the union isn’t even able to get them what Delta’s management is proactively offering flight attendants.

The memo acknowledges that boarding pay is a good thing, and that all flight attendants should receive boarding pay.

The union starts by claiming that boarding pay has been a priority for at least 20 years, but since 9/11 the union has been “consumed with battling management at the bargaining table to keep that which we’ve previously accomplished during negotiations.”

Basically claiming “well we haven’t really been able to do anything in 20 years” doesn’t seem like a strong argument in favor of unionization. That’s especially true since Delta flight attendants are arguably in a better position than United flight attendants.

The union then tries to paint “the rest of the story,” which includes the following:

  • “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”
  • “This decision is unquestionably tied to AFA’s ongoing effort in organizing Delta Flight Attendants”
  • “As Delta continues to add additional services, they have failed to restore staffing to pre-pandemic levels on the aircraft”
  • “This initiative seemingly is designed to divert attention from the fact that Delta will require all Flight Attendants to wear a uniform that has made them sick, an AFA initiative is fighting against as our collective work to establish standards continues”
  • “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”

This argument is simply all over the place. Where do we even begin?

  • I’m pretty sure most Delta flight attendants don’t mind boarding time being increased by five minutes if it means they’re being paid for the entire scheduled boarding time
  • The AFA is right about this being tied to attempts to unionize Delta flight attendants, though that’s about the only accurate and relevant point here
  • As far as Delta’s staffing levels go, virtually all US airlines staff domestic flights at the minimums legally required, so this is a really nuanced point
  • I’m not sure what uniforms have to do with boarding pay, but the AFA is really grasping at straws here
  • Right, there’s no commitment that Delta management won’t backtrack, but similarly, if Delta management does, wouldn’t that eliminate the whole point of this, which is to keep flight attendants happy and prevent them from unionizing?

The whole thing gives off “but her emails” vibes.

United says Delta’s boarding pay is good, but…

bottom line

Flight attendants should be paid during boarding, plain and simple. Delta became the first major US airline to start doing this, and that’s great news. While Delta flight attendants aren’t unionized, the major airline unions should be thanking Delta here, since Delta’s move gives them a lot more leverage.

Obviously unions are having a hard time justifying their value to members in light of this development. As a result, United’s flight attendant union is attacking Delta for increasing boarding time by five minutes, and for all kinds of unrelated things, like uniforms and staffing levels.

What do you make of the response from United’s flight attendant union to Delta’s boarding pay?

(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)

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