Keeping the Commitment Model in the Air during Turbulent Times: Employee Involvement at Delta Air Lines


  • Bruce E. Kaufman

    1. Department of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA
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    • He is also affiliated with the Centre for Work Organization and Wellbeing and Department of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia; and Work and Employment Research Unit, Business School, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK. The author expresses appreciation to the members of the Delta Board Council and, in particular, Billy Morey, for making this study possible.


This study provides a four-decade review and analysis of the commitment model of employment relations at Delta Air Lines and the role played in it by employer-created structures of employee involvement (EI) and voice. The company has undergone wrenching changes, including deregulation, 9/11, bankruptcy, mergers, and entrance of numerous low-cost competitors. This study chronicles the resulting ups and downs in the company's fortunes and its efforts to maintain a positive win–win relationship with its employees despite the burden of management missteps, tens of thousands of layoffs, repeated pay and benefit cuts, and merger with conflict-embittered Northwest Airlines. The fact the company survives today and still has a discernible “spirit of Delta” among employees is not solely or perhaps even principally due to its advanced EI program; on the other hand, without it the company would probably no longer exist.