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NWA, Delta Cabin Crew Seniority Unresolved

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Just weeks after Delta Air Lines consummated its marriage with Northwest Airlines, some rank-and-file flight attendants are generating waves in what executives had hoped would be a smooth unification of two large labor forces.
The Association of Flight Attendants union representing some 7,000 Northwest employees told Delta executives they won’t be attending a mid-December meeting with non-union Delta counterparts to discuss working toward a unified seniority list.
In response, a high-ranking Delta executive told employees in a memo this week that the flight attendants union was “dragging its feet” in helping resolve issues of seniority and union representation for flight attendants of both airlines. The executive also said Delta remains committed to reaching consensus on those issues sooner rather than later.
Michael Campbell, Delta’s executive vice president of human resources and labor relations, in early November invited leaders of the flight attendants union to join 14 of Delta’s 12,000-plus attendants to look at ways to merge seniority lists. The union, however, declined to meet and filed a federal lawsuit against Delta, saying it wants to resolve the issue of union representation before talking seniority.
“We have an established seniority integration process in place within [the union],” union spokeswoman Corey Caldwell said Wednesday. “It’s simple: date of hire.”
In her Wednesday memo to Delta and Northwest flight attendants, Joanne Smith, Delta’s senior vice president of in-flight service, said time was of the essence.
“The faster we can fully integrate … the faster we will all be able to bid and fly all trips from our bases,” Smith said. “We are making terrific progress and there is still much to do, but resolving seniority integration is perhaps the No. 1 concern I hear from all flight attendants I speak with at both airlines.”
Smith said the company will work toward a “fair and equitable” seniority list, which could end up being date of hire. But Delta wants to discuss other factors as well, including employee training on specific aircraft.
It remains unclear what effect, if any, the union’s lawsuit will have on the seniority integration for the two groups of flight attendants, though a delay in integration is likely.
Either way, the attendants from both groups will face a unionization election within the next few months.
The National Mediation Board has received a request from the Air Line Pilots Association to consider Delta and Northwest as one carrier, a request that was supported by five other Northwest unions but not the flight attendants.
Once the board makes a positive determination, the flight attendants union would have two weeks to file for an election. Once the board approves that election, a voting period lasting at least a few weeks would open up.
Previous attempts to unionize the Delta attendants have failed, including one earlier this year in which not enough Delta attendants voted to make the results official. The union filed a complaint claiming interference by Delta, but that claim was dismissed by the mediation board.
Smith, the Delta executive, said she hopes for a swift resolution.
“We want to take this worry away from all of you and work to reach a consensus on a combined list as soon as possible,” she wrote in her memo.

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