Ladies in red catch attention
July 28, 2009
On July 14, a news story appeared on the national scene about red dresses, or rather, how different people interpreted the red dresses.
To some, it was much ado about nothing. To others, the dresses were symbolic of years of mistreatment. Most said it was purely political.
The story last Tuesday was about a complaint the Northwest Airlines Association of Flight Attendants, a union, made to Delta Airlines in April.
Summit County is home to many Delta employees including attendants and pilots.
The complaint, which was one of several addressing obscure uniform policies, was that a red-dress uniform in use since 2006 was only available up to size 18.
The dress is only one part of a uniform collection created by celebrity designer Richard Tyler. All the other pieces in the collection are made up to a size 28.
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While flight attendants with Northwest Airlines, which recently merged with Delta, are represented by a union, the Delta attendants are not. A vote will likely be held within the next few months on whether all Delta attendants should unionize, or none.
The union for Northwest complained about some of the Delta uniform policies, including the color of dental retainers and whether skirts could be worn with orthopedic shoes. The union complained that any Delta attendant should be able to wear any piece of the uniform, regardless of size.
Dress size is a sensitive issue because attendants underwent years of sexual discrimination prior to the 1990s. Some of the worst examples included airlines terminating attendants for reaching the age of 32, getting married or pregnant, wearing eyeglasses or gaining weight. Male attendants were not allowed for several years, and when they were, often received higher salaries than the women.
Gina Laughlin, spokesperson for Delta Airlines, said she didn’t have an explanation for why the red dress is only offered up to size 18.
"I can’t say why that decision was made," she said on Wednesday.
But the subject "hasn’t been an issue" for attendants for the past three years, she said.
That begs the question why it’s an issue now. The likely answer is the upcoming vote on unionizing.
Attendant Liz Elias from Midway said unionizing is a hot topic of discussion among her co-workers. The red dress rule is not.
"I don’t think it’s an issue at all," she said.
Elias said she could wear the red dress if she wanted to, but won’t. She doesn’t like the bold color.
"That’s just too much red," she said.
She’s happy with all the uniform choices offered and doesn’t care if some are only offered in certain sizes.
The attention over the dress does illustrate how the union is willing to listen to any concerns people may have, and that’s attractive to some attendants, she said.
Dave Hinman has been an attendant for 33 years. He thinks the attention on the red dress makes the union look bad and the complaint wasn’t serious.
Hinman said he thinks the issue of uniforms is being used to divide and conquer. He believes Delta and the union both stand to lose or make a lot of money depending on how the vote goes, so strategizing is taking place.
Laughlin said Delta respects the right of attendants to make their own choice on unionizing.
"We want the union to respect that right as well," she said. "At the end of the day, attendants will make that decision."
In response to the red dress complaint, several messages were left with the union on Tuesday and Wednesday but none were returned. The organization’s website posted the following statement to its members on Wednesday afternoon:
"The so-called ‘red dress grievance’ has taken on a life of its own and has been twisted to outrageous proportion .
To be absolutely clear: The media is chasing this story. It was not brought to the newspapers by the Union .
The Union embodies the ideal of ‘an injustice to one is an injustice to all.’ We believe it is reasonable and right to offer the uniform pieces in all sizes and allow flight attendants to decide what they are most comfortable wearing. We do not apologize for fighting for what is right, even if it seems silly to those not affected. The red dress issue is one of discrimination, plain and simple."