Delta Airlines’ decision to fire a veteran baggage handler for speaking out in support of low-wage workers has elicited widespread criticism and drawn national attention to working conditions at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media lit up this week at the news that Kip Hedges, a 26-year airline employee and known union activist, was fired on Tuesday. He is scheduled to speak Friday at a rally by 15 Now, a group organizing to raise the minimum wage at MSP to $15 an hour. The event will be held at noon outside Terminal 1, Upper Level Roadway, across from ticketing.
Hedges said two Delta managers issued the termination after citing comments he made in a Workday Minnesota video that was posted on the 15 Now’s Facebook page.
In the video, Hedges states, “A lot of the Delta workers make, um, under $15 an hour. 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, the better paid workers also understand that the bottom has to be raised otherwise the top is going to fall as well.”
In an interview Thursday, Hedges said the Delta managers told him his remarks violated the airline’s Advocacy Policy, which prohibits “untrue or disparaging” public comments about the company.
Hedges said he was stunned to be disciplined for simply stating facts.
“On the ramp, there are close to a majority of workers who make less than $15 an hour,” he said. Other workers employed by subcontractors earn even less.
Word spread quickly of the firing from the Twin Cities to Delta operations in Atlanta, Detroit and elsewhere. An online petition calling for Hedges’ reinstatement has garnered thousands of signatures. Organizations outside the airline industry, such as the Minnesota Nurses Association, have issued statements of support.
“My phone has been blowing up,” said Dan McCurdy, a co-worker and longtime friend. “Kip is well-respected around the [Delta] system. There are a lot of people paying attention to this.”
The firing has been the subject of discussion in airline breakrooms, McCurdy said. “People feel like the company is ruling very heavy-handed.. . . I think a lot of eyes have been opened.”
“People are upset,” said Ken Hooker, another longtime friend and co-worker. “They’re concerned for Kip and the idea that we can’t speak about things.”
Hedges, McCurdy and Hooker were active in the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers when the union represented ground workers at Northwest Airlines. But when Northwest merged with Delta in 2009, the union was busted. In the ensuing years, many full-time jobs have been reduced to part-time and many jobs -- such as airplane cleaning -- have been outsourced to contractors that pay lower wages and benefits.
In the last two years, efforts have been underway to organize both ground workers and flight attendants.
“It seems like this termination of Kip was meant to silence our group and send a bit of a warning shot to the flight attendants are well,” noted McCurdy. “It feels like an intimidation move.”
Contacted by Workday Minnesota, Delta issued the following statement about Hedges' firing:
“Delta regrets any instance where a longtime employee is terminated,” Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for the airline, said. “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.
“Delta invites healthy, constructive discussion across all areas of its business. We apply our policies consistently and in a non-discriminatory manner, based on an individual’s conduct and record of job performance, without regard to anyone’s personal views.”
Workers are organizing through unions and other organizations to improve their lives. Union representation provides a voice on the job and the opportunity to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.