Obama Can Fix 'Unreasonable Burdens On Business'

Katie Gage
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Posted: Feb 14, 2011 4:43 PM
Obama Can Fix 'Unreasonable Burdens On Business'

Just over a year ago, and without a tremendous amount of attention from the national media, a little-known agency changed nearly a century of labor policy in favor of union bosses and to the detriment of workers in the airline and railway industries. The three-member agency known as the National Mediation Board (NMB) reversed a 75 year old precedent whereby a majority of a workforce was required to determine whether a collective bargaining unit had been formed. Under the new rule enforced by this regulatory agency, only a majority of those voting are needed to form a collective bargaining unit, meaning a small number of workers can decide every employee’s fate.

To demonstrate this point, if a company employs 100 railroad workers, one would think 51 votes are required to form a collective bargaining unit. But under the new rules, which upend labor policy upheld by both Republican and Democratic Administrations, only a majority of those voting are required to create the union. Therefore, if 50 workers vote, only 26 pro-union votes are needed, meaning 74 people are affected by the decision, whether they support unionization or not.

This assumes anyone not voting supports forming a collective bargaining unit. It drastically changes a basic principle that a majority of workers are required to change the work status of a place of employment. But if these are the rules to form a union, one would assume those same rules would apply to dissolve one, but nothing could be further from the truth. The NMB’s power grab is so extreme – in large part – because these same rules only apply for the certification not decertification of a bargaining unit, meaning more dues for labor bosses and fewer choices for workers.

In the previous Congress, an attempt was made to undue this radical action. Both Republican and Democratic Senators supported a Congressional resolution put forward by Senator Johnny Isakson, which would have overturned the National Mediation Board’s ruling, yet Big Labor had enough support in the U.S. Senate to stop the effort to reverse the “payback.”

One area with regard to this issue that has received little attention is who made the administrative rule change and why? First off, the request for the rule change was made in a private letter sent to the National Mediation Board by the Transportation Trades Division of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Secondly, one Obama appointee to the NMB – Linda Puchala is the former president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and the other – Harry Hoglander was the head of a pilot’s union. Needless to say, any objectivity on their part is non-existent.

And to make matters worse, a number of cases put forward by the unions were before the NMB prior to the rule change and coincidently, they were pulled and re-submitted soon after so that the new policy was put in place.

At a time when our national economy is struggling to distance itself from the Great Recession, an agency that’s charged with minimizing work stoppages and strikes in the airline and railroad industries has advanced an activist agenda that is so extreme that the third member of the National Mediation Board wrote in a dissent that the “the proposal was completed without my input or participation, and I was excluded from any discussions regarding the timing of the proposed rule.”

But today, there is some reason for hope that common sense will prevail in matters affecting airline and railway workers. The FAA Reauthorization legislation that will be marked up in the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this Wednesday includes a provision to repeal the National Mediation Board enforced and union promoted voting rule change from last year. This revocation will ensure that a majority of a workforce must vote in favor of union representation the way they have for nearly one hundred years. The bill also directs the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Comptroller General to evaluate the NMB’s activities and programs.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica is taking the lead in addressing this matter. According to Congressional Quarterly, “Mica’s bill also would nullify a National Mediation Board rule that went into effect in June. The rule changed the way ballots are counted in union elections. The NMB supervises union negotiations for the airline and rail industries governed by the Railway Labor Act.”

In addition, Representative Phil Gingrey from Georgia has introduced H.R. 548 named the Restoring Democracy in the Workplace Act, legislation which would repeal the rule promulgated by the National Mediation Board.

These developments serve as an opportunity for the Obama Administration to demonstrate whether their words have legitimacy. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed just a few weeks ago, President Obama wrote, “Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business – burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.”

He reiterates the point in his State of the Union Address saying, “To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.”

Mr. Obama now has his chance to act. He can stand with workers and businesses, and reject the forced unionization of airline and railroad workers, which will certainly have a “chilling effect on growth and jobs.” Furthermore, in advocating for legislation reversing the NMB’s actions, the President would be standing with his predecessors from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration to the present.

The actions of the National Mediation Board place an “unnecessary burden on businesses” and the President should stand with the Congress and “fix them.”