Score one for reality over alarmism.
The argument for maintaining the new rules for union-representation elections at U.S. airlines received a major boost—or at least it should have—from a vote in August by JetBlue Airways pilots. Proponents of the new rules, which the National Mediation Board (NMB) implemented last year, should be using the election as Exhibit A in the case against the push by some airlines and Republicans to have Congress overturn the changes.
This is why: Under the new NMB rules—which make union representation elections the same for airlines and railroads as for every other industry in the U.S.—workers actually have to cast a ballot in order to make their voices heard. Under the old rules, for union representation elections initiated before July 1, 2010, workers who did not cast a ballot effectively were counted as a vote against union representation. In fact, not casting a ballot was the only way to vote “no.”
That made it more difficult for unions to win those elections because it mixed workers who wanted to vote “no” with workers who did not care one way or another.
Many airlines cried foul. They argued—and still do—that this change to make airline union representation elections like all other union representation elections (and pretty much any election) is a blatant attempt to heavily tip the scales in favor of the unions.
But that argument never really made much sense. Under NMB rules, the union representation elections last for weeks, with secret ballots cast by Internet, phone or mail. That gives workers plenty of time and opportunity to vote. It does not take much effort to vote “no.”
The JetBlue pilots’ vote is a vivid illustration of that. Out of 2,108 eligible voters, 2,050 cast valid ballots—a 97% participation rate. Furthermore, the pilots rejected union representation by a significant margin: 1,193 to 857. That is not an aberration: I know of only one instance so far in which the change in the rules resulted in a union victory that would have been a union loss under the old system. Even at Delta Air Lines, probably the new rule’s most vigorous and persistent opponent, several worker groups have rejected union representation under the new vote-counting method.
That is just the reality.