A longtime Delta Airlines employee filed an appeal on Tuesday after he was fired for speaking out at a rally for higher wages.
Kip Hedges told Workday Minnesota that the airline cited a 30-second remark he made to a reporter while participating in a labor rally to set the minimum wage for baggage handlers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to $15 an hour.
“A lot of the Delta workers make under $15 an hour,” told a reporter in a video that was later posted to Facebook by 15 Now Minnesota, which organized the rally. “As a matter of fact, I would say probably close to half make under $15 an hour. So there’s a lot of them that understand how important this is. And a lot of the better-paid workers also understand that the bottom has to be raised otherwise the top is going to fall, as well.”
Hedges said that Delta officials told him that he was being fired after 26 years of service for “disparaging remarks.”
In a statement last Thursday, the company insisted that it “regrets any instance where a longtime employee is terminated.”
“However, Delta requires all employees to meet company performance and conduct standards. This includes upholding our core values of respect and honesty in any communications regarding Delta,” the statement continued. “Delta invites healthy, constructive discussion across all areas of its business. We apply our policies consistently and in a nondiscriminatory manner, based on an individual’s conduct and record of job performance, without regard to anyone’s personal views.”
The Star Tribune‘s Jon Tevlin pointed out that Hedges used to be an officer in the International Association of Machinists, which would have provided federal protections against being fired for speaking freely. But the union lost a vote to represent Minneapolis-St. Paul baggage handlers several years ago.
“I definitely did not want to get fired, and didn’t think I said anything that would get me fired,” Hedges explained to the Star Tribune. “It’s sure tossed a lot of things up in the air in my life.”
“I do understand that when you are out front on a union-organizing drive and a $15 minimum wage campaign, you do run a certain risk,” he added.
According to John Bud, a labor specialist at University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, Delta intended to intimidate Hedges and other employees with the action.
“First of all, shame on Delta,” Budd said. “In fact, by accusing Mr. Hedges of ‘disparaging remarks,’ Delta is admitting that low pay is a problem. But rather than engage in this discussion, it is suppressing the expression of alternative views.”
Hedges agreed that intimidation “is certainly what they are trying to do.”
“The way the Delta appeals process works, there’s not much hope of success [in being reinstated],” he noted. “The people who fired me are the people who judge me.”
Budd observed that the “case is a vivid illustration that workers lack free-speech protections. Companies have been given free-speech protections, but not their workers. This needs to change.”
But Hedges said that there was some reason for optimism.
“The positive thing is that ramp workers all over the country are going on a union authorization card push to show Delta their tactic is backfiring,” he insisted. “I hope Delta will look back at some point and say they wished they had not done that.”
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