Hennepin County Medical Center - Local 977

Trying to Fly Union?


At Northwest Airlines, most workers were union. At Delta, most workers were not. Now that Delta’s takeover of Northwest is complete, more than 15,000 former Northwest workers – many of them based in Minnesota – no longer have a union. They lost elections in 2010, outnumbered at the ballot box by the much-larger Delta workforce.

With the state’s biggest airline becoming even more nonunion, it got us wondering about other airlines that serve Minnesota. So we researched commercial carriers at Minneapolis-St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester and Brainerd. We also looked at airlines that fly to the border cities of Fargo, La Crosse and Sioux Falls.

The chart below (which you can download and print) shows the results. It shows how unionized each airline is, and which workers at which airlines have union contracts.

Especially in today’s rocky aviation industry, having a voice and strength at the bargaining table makes a real difference for airline workers, for their families and for passengers, says Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the AFL-CIO.

Collective bargaining brings, among other things, more training and more stability to their everyday work, he says. That means “passengers benefit from a safer and better flight experience.”

Regional complications

Unfortunately, booking a flight on a particular airline doesn’t mean you actually fly that airline. That’s because most major carriers in Minnesota outsource much of the actual flying. This is especially true if you take short or connecting flights or fly smaller, “regional” jets.

Many Delta flights, for example, use the “Delta Connection” name. That means you could be on any one of four airlines – Comair, Pinnacle, Republic or Eagan-based Mesaba (which actually is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pinnacle.). All four of these "Delta Connection" airlines actually are more unionized than Delta is.

It gets even more confusing. Pinnacle and Republic operate flights for other airlines, too. Both fly as US Airways Express. Pinnacle flies under the Continental Connection and United Express names. Republic flies as Continental Express and Frontier.

Not exactly ‘one big union’

The unions that represent airline workers are just as fragmented. Yes, a few major unions – the Air Line Pilots Association, Association of Flight Attendants/CWA, Machinists, Teamsters, and Transport Workers – represent tens of thousands of workers.

But even among airlines that serve Minnesota, seven different unions represent pilots. Seven unions represent flight attendants. Four unions represent mechanics. Some of these airline unions are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but many are independent. And on it goes.

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