In my last post on Delta’s impressive victory over the Association of Flight Attendants’ bid to organize the legacy-union Northwest flight attendants with the non-organized Delta flight attendants, I opined that the AFA could not have asked for better conditions under which to try to bring the flight attendants under its umbrella. But couldn’t the same be said for all of the unions trying to get a foothold on fortress Delta’s property?
In a union organizer’s perfect storm, in relatively recent memory, Delta’s employees have witnessed: Continued industry contraction and with it the continued shedding of overlapping jobs; relatively new senior leaders in some operating groups and a CEO and COO who replaced wildly popular, virtually cult-like Jerry Grinstein and Jim Whitehurst; necessary contraction of pension and health benefit models that made Delta an employee’s nirvana; promises of “industry standard” pay as opposed to previous promises of “top pay for top performance”; union-friendly NMB rules enacted by a pro-labor White House; and the integration of a workforce from the tundra of Minneapolis where even the mice in the hangars were probably unionized.
So how is it that eight, ocho, acht, octo, huit, otto, yes EIGHT straight post-merger unionization attempts by various groups have been sent to the hinterlands licking their wounds and vowing revenge? In any language, there’s got to be something in the secret sauce Delta is cooking to keep its flexible, nimble workforce the envy of the entire industry. My opinion? It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s rather simple: Communication! Communication! Communication! And did I mention Communication?
Why is communication so important? Because the single most repeated theme of a front-line employee ripe for organization is “no one listens to me.” The sense of impotence that can envelope the untended creates a vacuous expanse that cunning pro-union forces quickly inhabit. We’ve all heard the union mantra: “let your voice be heard.” But, too often, companies believe that the only necessary communication is a monologue pushed from the corporate war rooms and think tanks and dressed in typical HR speak that no one believes. Delta does it differently and very intentionally. With peer advocacy groups at every level that meet with divisional senior leaders and the wholly unique and brilliantly conceived Delta Board Council designed to give uber Board Room and ultra-executive-level access to a peer-chosen group of frontline and management personnel below the director level, Delta has mastered the often-neglected “pull” method of communication.
In doing so, senior leaders get it. They’re able to hear that ACS agent who is tired of the rickety ground support equipment. They can react to the flight attendant who has grown frustrated of flying into her off days. And even if policies are not always just as employees would want them, leaders have the answers before the question is even asked on a call-in show or during one of the many lounge visits conducted by Delta’s senior leaders.
End result? The union’s traditionally reliable calling card of giving “voice” to the employees sounds stale, hackneyed, and comes at the real, quantifiable, direct cost of union dues. To Delta’s frontline employees, why should they pay for the cow when Delta deliberately provides the milk? The answer is they never have and probably never will. Delta 8-Unions zero. Octa-Gone! Impressive. Impressive indeed.