Raising the showing of interest threshold, a union must now file a petition with 50 percent of the eligible workers signaling support for the union in order to hold an election. All substantive NMB rulemakings will require a public hearing, a commonsense initiative that Democrats adamantly opposed. Further revealing the NMB’s sausage making process, the Government Accountability Office will conduct and audit every two years and provide a report on union certification procedures. After learning of the deal, 18 transportation unions sent a critical letter to Senate Democrats and ultimately urged them to reject the deal.
These measures are huge steps in the right direction. For decades Republicans dare not touch the Railway Labor Act for fear of angering the transportation unions. But there is still work to be done. The Railway Labor Act remains one of the most problematic, bias pieces of law in existence. It is nearly impossible for workers to decertify a union; no working group of more than 400 members has ever successfully eliminated union representation in the transportation sector.
This explains why the railway and airline industries are so heavily unionized—60 percent of airline workers and 84 percent of railroad employees are unionized. Compare those numbers to the 7 percent of total private sector workers that are unionized and you know something is awry. With no chance of decertification, unions can essentially do whatever they please—their members have nowhere to go. Further compounding workers’ problems, Right-to-Work laws do not apply to airline and transportation employees so workers either pay union dues or lose their job. Unable to negotiate specific contractual preferences, transportation workers are subject to whatever deal the union hands them.
It will take years of incremental victories, public awareness campaigns, and a Republican controlled Congress and President to rewrite the deeply flawed National Railway Act. Until then, Mica and Boehner’s negotiations have stopped the bleeding and given conservatives their first NMB victory in decades.