New Arizona, Il Duce/Warlord
Delta union talks could hinge on Obama appointment
New administration likely to affect labor relations
By KELLY YAMANOUCHI
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, November 17, 2008
The switch to Barack Obama’s presidency is expected to bring a more labor-friendly administration, which could affect Delta Air Lines when it goes through union representation elections as a combined carrier with merger partner Northwest Airlines.
For the broader airline industry, “Labor costs are likely to rise, but not enough to impact the viability of the industry,” according to FTN Midwest Securities analyst Michael Derchin in a report issued Monday.
Clark University professor of labor relations Gary Chaison said Monday. He expects the Obama administration to “place a very high priority on protecting jobs.”
Many also expect President-elect Obama will appoint a member sympathetic to labor to the National Mediation Board, which facilitates labor-management relations at airlines and railroads.
That could affect efforts by unions to organize employees at the combined Delta, according to Derchin. Pilots were the only major unionized group at Delta, while employees from Northwest are largely unionized.
The Air Line Pilots Association and Delta have submitted filings seeking a determination that Delta and Northwest make up a single carrier. Delta wants the determination to apply across the company, which if approved would trigger a process toward union elections among other employee groups.
“If the current Republican dominated NMB does not move quickly” on the request, Derchin expects the composition of the board will become 2-1 in favor of Democrats, although it could take months before a new board member is appointed.
A pro-labor NMB also means current negotiations in the airline industry are likely to move more quickly, according to Derchin.
The National Mediation Board is made up of three board members who serve staggered three-year terms and are appointed by the president. Two of the three members’ terms have expired, but they continue in their positions until they resign or are replaced. No more than two of the board members can be of the same political party.
The board makes decisions on what group of employees constitutes a bargaining unit, which in turn can affect the result of a union representation election, according to Les Hough, an industrial relations consultant.
As Delta and its employees prepare for union elections, Delta recently announced 3 to 4 percent pay increases for non-union employees Jan. 1, while pilots will see 5 percent pay increases from their labor contract. Many unionized employees from Northwest will get 1 to 1.5 percent pay increases from their contracts.
Separately, Delta and Northwest pilots completed their last day of seniority list arbitration hearings Monday, and expect the arbitration panel to issue a seniority award and opinion Dec. 8.