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Delta told its workers to buy video games instead of unionizing

The seemingly union-busting tactics are cringeworthy, but they’re not unusual.

A Delta Airlines ground crew member pushes a passenger aircraft from the gate at Palm Springs International Airport in Palm Springs, California. The airline has resisted ramp workers’ attempt to unionize.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

For years, Delta flight attendants and ramp service workers — the employees who, among other things, load and unload the airline’s passenger planes and push them back from the gate — have been trying to unionize. And for years, Delta has tried to dissuade them from doing so, workers claim. A series of anti-union posters distributed by the company went viral this week after journalist Eoin Higgins posted a photo of one of the flyers on Twitter, sparking outrage about the company’s ongoing efforts to prevent workers from unionizing.

“Union dues cost around $700 a year,” one flyer reads. “A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.” Other posters tell employees that they could buy “tickets & food to a baseball game for a family” or spend “a night out watching football with their buddies” instead of paying union dues.

James Carlson, a coordinator with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers — the organization through which both the flight attendants and the ramp workers have been trying to unionize — told me the company’s tactics are nothing new. “Delta is probably one of the most anti-union companies in the world,” he said. “They’ve hired consultants to run anti-union campaigns. The flyer you saw that caused so much hubbub is just the tip of the iceberg on the tactics that Delta uses.”

According to Carlson, Delta has been putting these flyers in flight attendant and ramp crew break rooms. (The flight attendants and ramp crews are trying to organize under two separate unions. Delta’s pilots and dispatchers are already unionized.) Ramp workers claim Delta has capped the number of hours part-time employees can work and does not provide them with adequate health insurance, two grievances that the workers want to address as part of a union contract, Fast Company reported on Thursday — but Delta won’t recognize the union.

As Splinter reported in 2018, Delta also put up a website,, through which the company warned employees that unionizing could cause them to lose their benefits. Meanwhile, Delta’s revenue and profits are soaring.

These tactics are by no means limited to Delta. Last September, Gizmodo obtained an anti-union video Amazon provided to managers in its fulfillment centers, in which the company encouraged managers to warn their subordinates about the dangers of unionization, one of which is a threat “to the [fulfillment center’s] continued existence” and therefore their jobs. Target, Walmart, and Lowe’s have all put out similar videos. The San Francisco-based craft brewer Anchor Brewing Co. tried to dissuade workers from unionizing by telling them they’d have to begin paying dues even before the union and the company could agree on a contract, among other tactics, HuffPost reported in March. And last year, Elon Musk suggested (via Twitter, of course) that unionization would cause Tesla’s factory workers to lose their stock options.

In a statement to Vox, Delta claimed the posters were a way of educating employees about the risks of joining a union:

I can confirm that this poster is one of many pieces of content available to our employees and was produced by Delta a year ago. The specific questions are available in the employee break piece in rooms.

The direct relationship we have with our employees is at the very core of our strong culture and it has enabled continuous investments in Delta people. Our employees have the best total compensation in the industry, including the most lucrative profit sharing program in the world. They want and deserve the facts and we respect our employees’ right to decide if a union is right for them. Delta has shared many communications, which on the whole make clear that deciding whether or not to unionize should not be taken lightly.

But unionization advocates see the flyers as a way of threatening employees, not educating them. On Twitter, reactions to the anti-union flyers were decidedly negative, with people mocking the company’s attempt to sound friendly while trying to prevent employees from unionizing. “Speaking personally, union dues also buy me health insurance, a stronger network to find work and stay educated on current technology, and a 401k and pension,” one Twitter user wrote. “So. $700 well spent.”

The AFL-CIO also weighed in with a joke mocking the Delta posters. “A guillotine only costs $1,200 to build,” the tweet read. “Delta’s CEO made $13.2 million dollars last year. Get outside with your buddies, share some brews — sounds like fun.” That tweet has since been deleted.

“[Workers have] grown so numb to it. It’s this continued onslaught of demeaning and demoralizing messages that are meant to quash the unionization effort,” Carlson, the organizer, said. “The workers now are really, really enthused, and they’re happy that the public has been able to look behind the curtain at Delta and see what goes on behind the scenes there. The outrage that’s been expressed by the public has invigorated the employees.”

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