(CN) - Airline worker unions can sue Delta over its attempts to seal its merger with Northwest by integrating both companies' employees, though Northwest employees had union representation premerger and Delta employees did not.
The court had consolidated two cases brought by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which sued Delta Airlines under the Railway Labor Act.
After Delta and Northwest Airlines merged to become the world's largest airline in 2008, Delta began a seniority integration process to combine its employees with those of Northwest.
The unions say the action constituted unlawful interference with employees' rights to choose their own representatives and to organize and bargain collectively.
Delta argued that the case should be dismissed over jurisdiction because representation disputes should be heard by the National Mediation Board.
"To support its argument against federal jurisdiction, Delta conflates representation issues with representation disputes," U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts wrote (parentheses in original).
"No representation dispute lurks within the four corners of AFA's amended complaint or IAM's complaint. Neither are issues 'inextricably intertwined' with representation disputes presented here, because the question of which representative was certified was distinct and settled."
Roberts found a genuine issue exists for the courts to determine since Northwest workers were unionized and Delta workers were not.
"Despite Delta's contention, neither party argues or presents facts challenging the employees' choices about representatives," Roberts wrote. "Delta's own letters to Northwest executives recognized fully Delta's and Northwest's different representation status."
If there is no other remedy to enforce the Railway Labor Act, and the right of collective bargaining is unsupported by any legal sanction, courts can hear union cases, Roberts found.