Delta’s anti-union campaign draws ire, as internal messaging goes public

The airline encouraged employees to buy video games instead of paying union dues. That message elicited widespread backlash; AFL-CIO’s social media response also overstepped.

Delta's anti-union messaging backfires

Because of social media, how you speak to employees can quickly become a reputational issue for your organization.

Delta Airlines has seen modest success in recent years and big payouts for top-level executives, but many employees still work long days for $9 an hour. Union representatives from the International Association of Machinists (IAM) have been circulating materials to call for a vote to unionize, but Delta is pushing back.

The company has used flyers, websites and apps to convince employees that a union isn’t in their best interest. However, some of those messages have been poorly received.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

Atlanta-based Delta has launched its own campaign, including websites and apps criticizing the IAM and urging them not to sign the cards calling for a unionization vote.

The IAM posted a picture of a flyer posted in a Delta break room that suggests workers should spend their money on a new video game system rather than on union dues.

Delta says the messages are intended to help employees make the right choice for their interests.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continued:

Delta acknowledged that is one of its flyers, and said in a written statement: “Delta has shared many communications, which on the whole make clear that deciding whether or not to unionize should not be taken lightly.”

The company said its employees “want and deserve the facts and we respect our employees’ right to decide if a union is right for them.”

The union and pro-union politicians slammed Delta for what they see as tone-deaf messaging.

NBC News reported:

The union said in a statement Thursday that Delta had “resorted to defaming and spewing lies and misrepresentations about the IAM.”

Several members of Congress joined thousands of other people on social media in denouncing the poster.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic presidential candidate, called the poster “a disgrace,” alleging on Twitter that “Delta’s CEO made nearly $22 million in 2017 while paying ramp agents as little as $9/hour.”

Many on social media voiced anger over Delta’s anti-union screed:

However, one social media response took things too far.

CNN reported:

The AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions, posted and then deleted a tweet Thursday night that featured a picture of a guillotine and a suggestive reference to Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

… The AFL-CIO‘s tweet featured a flyer made by Delta that had circulated on Twitter earlier Thursday. That flyer showed an image of a gaming controller, and read, “Union dues cost around $700 a year. A new video game system with the latest hits sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead of paying dues to the union.”

In its tweet, the AFL-CIO showed that flyer next to one it added. That flyer mimicked Delta’s, but featured an illustration of a guillotine, and read, “A guillotine only costs $1200 to build. Delta’s CEO made $13.2 million dollars last year. Get outside with your buddies, share some brews—sounds like fun.”

Although the tweet has been deleted, the image continues to circulate on social media.

CNN continued:

Carolyn Bobb, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, said the organization did not create the image, but rather found it on the internet and tweeted it.

“We strive to keep our Twitter account actively engaging and real to advocate for working people,” she said. “We came across and shared this Internet meme. We realize it was in poor taste that doesn’t reflect the values of the AFL-CIO and it has been taken down.”

The tweet was up for a couple of hours before being deleted.

The meme has appeared in tweets disparaging Delta before.

When Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio on Thursday responded to Delta’s flyer with a tweet in which he called it “condescending bulls–t” and said a gaming system can’t provide fair wages, health care benefits, job security or retirement benefits, another user replied with the guillotine image.

The online spat spotlights both the power and pitfalls of visual content online. AFL-CIO’s misstep serves as a sober reminder for social media managers to double-check anything they plan to share from an organization’s online channels.

Unionization has become a national topic as labor unrest and work stoppages have made national headlines in 2019. Stop & Shop supermarket employees organized a strike for better wages and several teachers groups across the country have gone on strike for higher salaries and more investment in education. Uber and Lyft drivers attempted to organize a work stoppage on May 8 for better compensation.

Corporate leaders should think about how best to discuss union issues, keeping in mind that messages for employees often become public messages that get shared widely on social media.

What do you think of Delta’s campaign, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

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