Though she leads a union with nearly 50,000 members from 20 airlines (the other major flight attendants union has a membership of 28,000) few people outside corporate boardrooms and airplane galleys know Nelson’s name. In the male-dominated universe of the American labor movement, however, Nelson is gaining altitude with a pace that resembles the dramatic emergence of youthful female politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“She has come from — I don’t want to say nowhere — she has come from not being very well known to being a star in the labor movement,” Brown said in an interview later. “She’s just so good. She captures the crowd and you don’t want to speak after somebody like that.”
Nelson’s rise can be attributed to a potent mix of progressive politics and relentless self-promotion. More than anyone else in the labor movement, she has tapped into the energy on the new left and used the media to her advantage, ascending past a ruling class of older white men to become one of the most visible labor leaders in America. She has crisscrossed the country lamenting the evils of unchecked capitalism and taken on the president with the gusto of someone running to unseat him.