"I'm very disappointed. It was not that far away from a win," said Marianne Bicksler, a Salt Lake City-based flight attendant and activist who supported the drive to unionize.
Voting began Sept. 28 and ended Wednesday. Bicksler said exit polls conducted during the balloting showed "an overwhelming majority" of the 674 attendants in Salt Lake City favored joining AFA-CWA.
Cindy Hanks, who opposed the unionization drive, said the local support for a union was strongest among attendants who worked for Western Airlines before it was acquired by Delta in 1986. Western attendants were affiliated with AFA, she said.
"I'm ecstatic," Hanks said. "There is no reason for a union at Delta."
Until now, the AFA-CWA represented flight attendants who worked for Northwest Airlines when Delta bought it in 2008. Attendants who were with Delta before the purchase were nonunion. When Northwest and Delta became a single airline, a vote was needed to resolve the issue for the combined group.
Of Delta's 20,000 flight attendants, 7,000 were with Northwest. The rest were Delta employees, many of whom had worked without union representation for the Atlanta-based carrier for a long time.
Still, there were rifts, caused largely by airline industry upheavals and Delta's journey through bankruptcy. In 2002, and again in 2008, Delta cabin crews voted on whether to affiliate with a union. Both times the effort was defeated.
"Representation, having a contract is a business decision," Bicksler, a 23-year Delta attendant stationed at the airline's hub at Salt Lake City International Airport. "Employees in an 'at-will' state and work force [where workers can be fired at any time without a stated reason, as long as the separation isn't discriminatory] are vulnerable.
"In our environment today, with cost-cutting and other initiatives that seem to always fall on the workers' shoulders, we need protection," Bicksler said.
Hanks has worked for Delta for a quarter-century. She said she's never felt the need for representation by a union.
"I've always said that Delta was the company to work for. I get paid more than my co-workers [who worked for Northwest before the merger]. I have an open-door policy with my management. Whenever I have a complaint, I am listened to, and there is always a resolution. I'm not left in the dark," Hanks said.
Paul Tanner, a Salt Lake City-based attendant for Delta for 20 years, said he was pleased the vote came close to succeeding, despite a vigorous campaign by Delta.
Tanner said he received mailings two or three times a week. He got calls from his supervisors, urging him to vote no. Company computer screens were rife with pop-up messages, he said.
The defeat "definitely has to be credited to the massive campaign that Delta mounted," Tanner said.
Delta has another hurdle to cross. Voting began Oct. 14 for 14,000 ground workers who handle baggage and cargo, including 600 to 700 employees in Salt Lake City. The workers are considering whether to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Voting for those workers ends Nov. 18.