A former baggage handler for Delta Air Lines claims in a new lawsuit that he was fired from his job of 26 years for union organizing and public comments about low pay for Delta’s ground workers.
The suit, filed Thursday by Christopher “Kip” Hedges in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, asserts that the Atlanta-based airline violated provisions of the federal Railway Labor Act that prohibits company interference in union activities.
Hedges, a baggage handler and ramp worker who started with Northwest Airlines and was once a top union official, claims he was fired last December for publicly stating that “a lot of Delta workers make less than $15 an hour.”
Hedges, who gained a following among ground workers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport because of his campaign for higher wages, says Delta told him the comments were “disparaging, untruthful and misleading.”
Delta on Friday said it does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy. But the airline said previously it is dedicated to “upholding our core values of respect and honesty in any communications regarding Delta.”
Hedges’ lawsuit states that he had previous run-ins with management at Delta over his efforts to organize a union for ground workers after Delta acquired Northwest in 2008.
At Northwest, baggage handlers and ramp workers were represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Delta’s ground workers were not unionized and an attempt by the IAM to organize the unit was ultimately unsuccessful.
In early 2012, Hedges said he was questioned by Delta management after he made critical comments about Delta’s use of part-time workers in ground jobs. Later, Hedges said he was given a “final warning” for violating Delta’s “advocacy policy” for attempting to get workers to sign union authorization cards. His appeals were denied.
In 2014, Hedges became involved in a national organization called 15 Now, which is attempting to get the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour.
In October, he said in a video interview for the online labor publication Workday Minnesota that “a lot of Delta workers make less than $15 an hour and are very concerned about this issue. In fact, I would say probably close to half make less than that.”
Hedges subsequently was fired and his appeal was denied in February.
Hedges’ lawsuit asks a judge to find Delta in violation of the Railway Labor Act, grant him compensation for lost wages and benefits, and award punitive damages of more than $75,000.
Hedges, 61, currently is receiving workers’ compensation because of a back injury and is subject to weight restrictions on the amount he can lift, said attorney Gregg Corwin, who filed the lawsuit.