Delta Air Lines is facing backlash for suggesting to employees that it would be more “fun” to spend their money on new video games or rounds of drinks than on union dues.
The idea, communicated in flyers that have been displayed in employees’ break rooms, attracted sudden criticism Thursday that gained momentum Friday as images were shared online.
“A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun,” one flyer said. “Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.” Another said: “Nothing’s more enjoyable than a night out watching football with your buddies. All those union dues you pay every year could buy a few rounds.”
A third said: “Tickets & food to a baseball game for a family aren’t cheap. That $700 in union dues you’d be paying every year could sure go a long way.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president and who has previously met with Delta employees to hear their concerns about benefits and salary, criticized the flyers on Twitter. “Stop trying to undercut workers’ right to form a union and negotiate for better wages,” he said Thursday.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the flyers were “condescending.”
In response to emailed questions, Delta said Friday that the flyers were posted in employee break rooms more than a year ago. “Delta has shared many communications, which on the whole make clear that deciding whether or not to unionize should not be taken lightly,” it said.
James Carlson, assistant airline coordinator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that is campaigning to represent Delta’s ramp service employees and flight attendants, said Friday that the flyers were placed in stands in employee break rooms that are often used to distribute written materials from the company.
Carlson said he did not know why the flyers got so much attention this week. But his office found out about them when it began to receive inquiries from journalists Thursday.
“It is disgusting; it is insulting; it is juvenile,” he said of the flyers’ anti-union messaging. “Nobody that respects their employees would talk to them that way.”
Carlson said the Delta ramp service employees and flight attendants currently considering unionizing were based in 44 cities around the United States.
The flyers’ messaging drew a fiery response at a time when battles to improve workers’ rights are being waged in the United States, particularly as the Trump administration has pursued labor policies that benefit entrepreneurs and corporations over rank-and-file workers.
“You’re making an extra $800M per YEAR because of the Trump tax bill,” Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., wrote on Twitter. “But you’re aggressively undermining unions, which fight for fair pay and job security for your employees?”
Drivers for Uber, the ride-hailing app, staged a day of strikes this week against the company’s employment and pay practices. Last month, over 30,000 Stop & Shop workers reached a tentative agreement with their employer that they said met their demands for better wages and health benefits.
Those actions and others have taken political root among candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, many of whom have come out in support of workers’ grievances, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; former Vice President Joe Biden; and Sanders, I-Vt.