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Bernie Sanders VS Doug Parker, Round 2

Bernie Sanders VS Doug Parker, Round 2
Jeff Edwards

Delta CEO Ed Bastian took the rare step of rebuking a sitting U.S. Senator after Bernie Sanders signed a letter accusing the legacy carrier of giving executives multimillion-dollar paydays while rank-and-file employees earn as little as $9 an hour and are sometimes forced to “live paycheck to paycheck.” Bastian referred to the accusations as “misperceptions” in his fiery response.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian responded quickly and forcefully to recent accusations from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. The 2020 Presidential candidate, along with eight other lawmakers, signed an open letter to Bastian after it was revealed that management at the airline may be aggressively discouraging employee participation in unionization efforts.

“Mr. Bastian, you earned almost $40 million in the last two years while paying workers who make Delta Air Lines arguably the most financially successful airline on the planet as little as $9 per hour,” Sanders and his colleagues wrote. “Thousands of your employees live paycheck to paycheck and seek IAM representation to better their lives. Instead of allowing Delta workers to decide whether unionizing is right for them free from your influence, you have directed your management to actively interfere with the efforts of your workers to decide this question for themselves.”

Sanders followed the harshly worded letter with a tweet, featuring Delta commissioned anti-union posters. He used the opportunity to restate allegations that some Delta Air Lines workers are being paid near-poverty level wages.

This week, the Delta chief fired back, accusing the senator from Vermont of misrepresenting the facts to further political ambitions. In a letter to Senator Sanders, Bastian flatly denied any suggestion that workers are underpaid.

“Delta is the most successful airline on the globe because of our people, and taking care of them is my No. 1 job,” Bastian wrote in the letter which was also distributed to employees and later obtained by Forbes. “Your tweet that ramp agents earn $9 per hour is simply wrong – starting salaries are nearly double that rate. And at the top of scale, after 12 years of service, our airport agents and flight attendants earn $74,000 and mechanics earn $121,000 annually. Across the board, these are the best-rewarded airline employees in the world. Rightfully so.”

According to the employer survey and rating site, Glassdoor, ramp agents at Delta can expect to earn between $11 and $18 per hour. From the self-reported salary information available, it appears that ramp agents at Delta are making more than the $9 an hour asserted by Senator Sanders. It would seem, however, that only the most senior ground crews earn the nearly $18 an hour starting salary cited by Bastian. The dueling income figures do not take into account the potentially lower pay rates of any baggage handlers or gate agents employed through independent contractors.

The details supplied by Bastian regarding the top-end salaries for the company’s other most senior workers appear to be more or less in-line with the latest self-reported salary information available. The CEO’s declaration that Delta has the “best rewarded employees in world” is also in many ways borne out by the evidence.

In most cases, Delta flight attendants with seniority make as much or more than their counterparts at the other big three legacy carriers in North America. With an average hourly pay of more than $30, Delta cabin crews can take home about twice as much money as flight attendants who work for smaller regional carriers – even in cases when those crew members are working flights operated as Delta Air Lines scheduled service. By comparison, flight attendants at ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines report earning as little as $19 per hour. Meanwhile, United Airlines cabin crew members’ self-reported average wages exceed $40 an hour.

One thing is certain: Bastian himself is among the best rewarded airline CEOs in the world. In 2018, Bastian was unseated as the highest paid airline executive by American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. Still, as Senator Sanders noted, his nearly $40 million in income over the last two years is a fortune when compared to most of the company’s workforce.

In both 2016 and 2017, Bastian was the highest paid executive in the airline industry. In fact, with a 2017 income of more than $8.2 million, even Delta Air Lines second-in-command, President Glen Hauenstein made more money than the CEO of Southwest Airlines and had a salary nearly that of Alaska Airlines CEO Bradley Tilden and JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes combined.

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (14)


  1. edgewood49

    May 23, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    I am not a huge fan of Bastian but in this case he did the right thing calling out Sanders and did it convincingly. Bravo

  2. teddybear99

    May 24, 2019 at 12:10 am

    It helps his cause when DL is a larger, more successful airline than most of the airlines and CEO’s they are tryng to compare his salary/compensation to.

  3. JackE

    May 24, 2019 at 12:40 am

    When Sanders was outed as being a 1%-er, his dismissive response was, and I paraphrase, “You can earn millions too if you write a best-selling book.”

    So all a gate agent has to do is follow Sanders’ advice and write a best-selling book.

  4. akl_traveller

    May 24, 2019 at 1:29 am

    Sanders is right in one way: there is almost zero correlation between CE remuneration and company success. Companies that are so ruthless about getting a ROI are oddly blind when considering the effect of paying a particular CE a particular amount.

  5. fotographer

    May 24, 2019 at 3:43 am

    Sanders.. stay out of private business…

  6. Dhamal

    May 24, 2019 at 6:06 am

    Again the author is a political hack.. this is not related to Flying..

  7. edgewood49

    May 24, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Dhamal have you looked around at the other bloggers lately most rehash old news and heavens forbid politically motivated.

    Keep going Jeff I don’t always agree with you but at least you have decorum and little “See Me” posts

  8. sfoeuroflyer

    May 24, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Sanders knows zero about the private sector. And less than zero about running an airline. As for running a country?????

  9. nycityny

    May 25, 2019 at 7:43 am

    JackE – Sanders wasn’t outed as a 1%-er. He was “outed” as being a millionaire. Big difference. Lots of folks are millionaires these days. But only 1% of folks are 1%-ers.

  10. jb9140

    May 25, 2019 at 9:04 am

    I went back and found a copy of the letter that Senator Sanders sent to Delta. He did not mention ramp agents, he said that some workers are paid as little as $9 per hour. Delta CEO Ed Bastion chose to pick ramp agents, who he knows make more than $9 per hour ($11 to start) to try to show that Delta doesn’t pay people $9 an hour. You notice how he tries to move the spotlight away from the lowest paid workers to workers that he wants the public see.

    By the way, someone making $11 per hour makes $440 for a 40 hour work week or $22,880 a year. If you make $9 per hour that’s $360 a week or $18,720 per year. When someone wants a larger piece of the pie, it has to come from someone else’s piece. $22 millions is a very large piece of pie.

  11. randkinca

    May 25, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Why is this article titled ” Sanders vs. Parker pt. 2″ when it all about Bastian?


    May 25, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Funny, nobody ever complains about the immoral movie stars and sports stars that make fortunes based on fans paying to see them. Bastian is running the best airline and he deserves to be paid the best. Sanders is not helping his cause to be our next president, not that I’m too unhappy about that

  13. RUAMKZ

    May 26, 2019 at 2:35 am

    The headline says “Doug Parker” in it, but virtually all of the article is about Bastian??

  14. alexmyboy

    May 28, 2019 at 5:04 am

    if delta so great, go work there. I live in Detroit and delta owns our airport and the airfares are ridiculous

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