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Clean for pride, not pay, Delta asks staff

The troubled airline, which is trying to keep down costs, hopes to spiff up its fleet with free help from employees.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published April 20, 2006


Bankrupt Delta Air Lines has cut thousands of jobs, slashed salaries and considered abandoning its pilots' pension plan to stay in business.

Now, the nation's No. 3 airline is asking some 50,000 employees to volunteer to clean aircraft at night on their own time. Their reward: a free T-shirt, reward points good for merchandise and a chance to show their pride in the airline.

Employees will pull four- and eight-hour shifts to clean interior windows and walls, "scrape stuff from tray tables and floors . . . if there's gum on the floor," said spokesman Anthony Black. Cleaning lavatories is part of the drill, too.

More than 300 workers volunteered for the first "Clean Day" scheduled for Delta's Atlanta hub Wednesday evening, said Black. The event was canceled after a security alert snarled traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for much of the afternoon.

Another Clean Day event was set for Wednesday night at the airline's hub in Salt Lake City. Black didn't know how many employees throughout the airline have volunteered.

"The effort allows us to focus on a key element of customers' expectations when traveling: aircraft cleanliness," said a recorded message on Delta's employee news line. "Clean Days allow employees to work together to demonstrate pride in Delta and its operation."

After pay cuts and a bitter struggle with pilots that resulted in a tentative contract agreement last week, the idea will likely rub employees the wrong way, said Daniel Petree, dean of the college of business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

"It could be seen as adding insult to injury, asking for free labor," Petree said. "It may not tactically be a smart thing."

Employees at Tampa International Airport rolled their eyes when a supervisor told them about the program Monday.

But Delta pilot Keith Rosenkranz hoped loyal customers would appreciate the extra efforts by employees and keep doing business with the airline.

"Spirits may be down, but people should applaud any employee willing to volunteer their free time to make the product their company offers better," wrote Rosenkranz of Grapevine, Texas, in an e-mail. But he doesn't plan to fly to a hub like Atlanta to participate.

Delta filed for bankruptcy reorganization in September, crippled by a combination of high costs, fierce low-fare competition and rising fuel prices.

The airline went down to the wire last week negotiating a new concessionary contract with pilots, Delta's only major employee group represented by a union, who had threatened a strike. Delta said a strike would doom the carrier, the second largest behind Southwest at Tampa International. Pilots still must vote on the proposal.

Meanwhile, Delta is working to win back customers, and part of that includes improving the appearance of its fleet. Employees are being urged to report unclean aircraft and other problems they see while traveling.

"We're committed to cleaning the aircraft more often and more thoroughly," said Black, who declined to characterize the condition of Delta's planes.

This isn't the first time Delta has requested employees to pitch in on their own time. The airline asks them to work as "Peach Corps" volunteers, assisting passengers at airports during holidays and other busy times, said Black.

It's legal for employers to ask workers to volunteer their time as long as it's not "tongue in cheek (where) if you don't volunteer, you don't have a job," said Dean Papas, an employment lawyer in Tampa.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.

[Last modified April 20, 2006, 01:49:14]


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