Union leader Sara Nelson at Fast Company Innovation Festival

Sara Nelson, worldwide president of the Affiliation of Flight Attendants (AFA), says she was at a latest White Home assembly with union leaders, when President Biden appeared up from his notes and remarked to the group: “Typically, I believe that you just don’t even perceive your individual energy.”

That’s a sentiment with which Nelson very a lot agrees. “Let me simply be actually clear: that energy exists with staff on a regular basis,” Nelson stated at the 2021 Fast Company Innovation Festival. Sure, companies have cash, and management, however staff are those creating all the worth within the financial system. “If each business have been to easily cease working,” she stated, “the company elite would yield to any and all calls for, as a result of the world may merely not go on.”

Nelson was as soon as an aspiring instructor struggling financially to even arrange her personal classroom, when a buddy persuaded her to turn into a flight attendant. Since 1996, she’s been a United Airways attendant, and in 2014, turned president of the AFA. However, regardless of her job representing flight attendants, her message could be very clear: staff throughout industries want to affix collectively, as a result of they’re combating a lot the identical fights. “Now we have to be in every single place for everybody,” she stated.


And, she has been. Nelson’s hung out combating alongside coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, the place staff for Warrior Met Coal have been putting since April for higher situations. When she first arrived in Alabama, folks questioned why she, a flight attendant, was there. However: “The situations which can be in that mine are the identical situations that we expertise on planes following bankruptcies,” she advised Clendaniel. “So, whether or not it’s 2,000 toes beneath the bottom, or 35,000 toes within the air, we’re the identical.”

Throughout sectors, the battle in the end boils all the way down to the truth that “productiveness of the American employee has gone by the roof, whereas wages have remained stagnant and flat.” It’s the identical, she says, with Nabisco workers putting throughout the nation, principally towards a proposal to show eight-hour shifts to 12, with out additional time; and an ongoing nurses’ strike in Worcester, Massachusetts, the longest within the state’s historical past, reacting to an absence of secure working situations. And, in her personal business, with Delta flight attendants who’ve lengthy been making an attempt to arrange. Eighty p.c of aviation staff are unionized, however Delta has stood out, with the company spending $38 million in lower than a yr to maintain unions away. “They’re actually mature union-busters,” she stated. “I believe that Delta could be much better off if they’d merely get out of the best way and permit their workers the respect to have the ability to select having a union.”

What could shock white-collar staff—who could really feel snug in perk-filled workplace roles—is that Nelson insists they, too, are in the identical. Within the age of mergers and acquisitions, hedge funds with little take care of corporations’ or workers’ futures are often shopping for up companies and consolidating entities. “All of these pressures are going to in the end create a race the place your job is eroded,” Nelson says. Her phrases of warning: “You don’t want a union till you do. And if you do, it’s often too late.”