Katie Gage

There seems to be no limit to how far union bosses will go in demanding political payback for supporting President Obama’s election campaign. In the airline industry, they are demanding that the new administration rewrite the election process, imposing new labor-friendly rules that have been rejected by four previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic.

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Airline union elections are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). It is quite different than the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which covers unions in other industries. Contracts under the RLA are national in scope and require a majority of a workgroup to vote in a union. This reflects a long-held belief that a union can only be effective if it has the support of the majority of the employees and the fact that airlines and railroads are critical to moving U.S. commerce. A few other important facts about the RLA – there is no formal decertification process, which means it’s nearly impossible for a union to be voted out even if workers change their mind about being unionized. Workers covered by the RLA are also exempt from state right to work laws.

On September 2, 2009, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), International Association of Machinists (IAM) and other unions asked the National Mediation Board (NMB), which oversees RLA elections, to change the traditional majority rules voting process to a minority rule voting process – allowing the will of a small group of employees to dictate the fate of the entire workgroup. What does this mean? Instead of requiring a majority of employees to vote for union representation, a majority of only those voting in the election would be required. This would in essence assume that anyone not casting a ballot is, in fact, in favor of union representation.

Of course, they didn’t ask for other changes, like creating a decertification process or allowing workers to opt out of their union dues. They want to make it easier to unionize, and leave workers with the same near-impossibility of ever voting the union out. Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

Katie Gage

Katie Gage is the executive director of the Workforce Fairness institute.