Delta CEO Ed Bastian swiftly and succinctly dismantled a poorly-researched tweet by U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D – VT).
I routinely cover airline CEO correspondence on Live and Let’s Fly and I do not think I have ever seen a more effective letter than what Bastian just sent to Senator Sanders.
The controversy started when headlines remerged about an anti-union flyer put out by Delta encouraging employees to spend $700/year on a video game system rather rather than union dues.
Sanders took to Twitter to condemn Delta and also penned a letter signed by 12 other Democratic U.S. Senators concerning the unionization at Delta.
Delta told employees to buy video games instead of forming a union. What a disgrace.
Delta's CEO made nearly $22 million in 2017 while paying ramp agents as little as $9/hour.
I say to Delta: Stop trying to undercut workers' right to form a union and negotiate for better wages. https://t.co/8fx30jIfJf
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 9, 2019
Mr. Bastian, you earned almost $40 million in the last two years while paying workers who make Delta Air Lines arguably the most financially successful airline on the planet as little as $9 per hour. Thousands of your employees live paycheck to paycheck and seek IAM representation to better their lives. Instead of allowing Delta workers to decide whether unionizing is right for them free from your influence, you have directed your management to actively interfere with the efforts of your workers to decide this question for themselves.
Bastian took particular umbrage at the $9/hour accusation, which he argues is outright wrong. But let’s take a step back. First, Bastian begins with a concession to Senator Sanders:
I agree that the communication recently cited by the IAM – a year-old flyer that was in our breakrooms and removed after a week – was poorly crafted and not an appropriate communication to our people. That’s not who we are, and we have taken steps to make sure future messages to our people regarding their choices on representation are always meaningful and respectful of their rights.
Notice two things First, Bastian downplays the video game flyer by saying it was over a year old and voluntarily removed before any controversy arose. Second, her at leasts gives lip service to giving employees the choice of whether to unionize or not.
Bastian then continues by showing, via bullet point, how well Delta treats its employees. I find each argument effective and persuasive:
That said, facts matter. Delta is and always will be pro-people. That commitment shows in our track record:
- Total annual compensation for our people, 80,000 strong, has increased by 80 percent since 2008. I’m unaware of any company our size that can make a similar statement. We’ve given 10 pay increases over the past 10 years.
- In the past 5 years, our employees have seen their base pay increase by more than 30 percent on average.
- Delta provides strong, middle-class jobs. Your tweet that ramp agents earn $9 per hour is simply wrong – starting salaries are nearly double that rate. And at the top of scale, after 12 years of service, our airport agents and flight attendants earn $74,000 and mechanics earn $121,000 annually. Across the board, these are the best-rewarded airline employees in the world. Rightfully so.
- We have the best profit-sharing plan in our industry and likely throughout America. Effectively 15 percent of the profits of our company go to employees, in addition to their salary. We paid $1.3 billion in profit-sharing last February – our 5th year in a row with payouts in excess of $1 billion. No other company in this country can make that claim.
- Our industry-leading 401(k) plan offers up to a 9 percent contribution from Delta, including a 3 percent company investment and, on top of that, a 6 percent dollar-for-dollar match when the plan member contributes 6 percent.
- When Delta faced bankruptcy a decade ago, we were the only airline that fought to retain our people’s pension plans. It required an act of Congress, including a unanimous vote by the U.S. Senate, to approve a rule change that preserved the accrued benefits our people had earned. We have funded $7 billion into our plans over the past 5 years.
- Delta is hiring more than 5,000 team members every year. We receive hundreds of thousands of applications from people wanting to join our family, because we are known as the airline of choice that takes the best care of its people.
- Our people, who have many career options, choose to invest their time with us. Our average attrition rate is below 5 percent, significantly under the national average, and average seniority is 16 years.
For good measure, Bastian adds:
I’m proud that Delta has consistently been named a “Great Place to Work” in recent years by organizations like Fortune, Glassdoor and Indeed. We also have been named by Fortune among the best workplaces for diversity and women.
I appreciate that Bastian did not simply ignore the false charge. He was right to counteract it. And even if the disparity between what Bastian earns and what employees earn continues to widen, the “trickle down” approach is indeed working at Delta…there is no question about it. Delta employees I speak to are thrilled to work for Delta…simply thrilled. Delta is absolutely anti-union, but it is not anti-employee.