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  • Airline Union Issue In The Spotlight
    Posted by Andrew Compart 10:10 PM on Mar 29, 2011

    With all of the protests, attention and controversy over collective bargaining rights at the state level, it probably was inevitable that the ongoing fight over airline union representation rules would start getting some national attention. Well, now it is. The story is gathering steam on politically liberal blogs and last night got some valuable airtime on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

    As you may recall, the National Mediation Board changed the rules for airline and railroad worker union representation elections last July, so that unions can win the elections if a majority of the workers casting ballots vote for unionization. Previously, any worker who did not vote essentially got counted as a "no" vote; in fact, not voting was the only way to vote "no," because the actual ballots did not include a "no" option. Thos rules were different than under the vast majority of union elections, which operate under National Labor Relations Board rules, and make airline union-organizing efforts more difficult.

    Although the NMB began implementing the rule last July, the issue remains alive because most airlines hate it and some Republicans in the House are leading an effort to void the change and return to the previous practice. It's in the House FAA Reauthorization Bill, after

    Two of the most popular politically liberal blogs are running with the story now, and The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC gave it more notoriety last night (pick up the video at the 5:30 mark). The theme is that this is part of a nationwide effort by Republican's to destroy unions. The Huffington Post ran this story in early March, which was picked up (and elaborated on) by The Daily Kos a few days later.

    Last Friday, The Daily Kos ran another story, this one reporting on the apparent involvement of Delta and Delta employees in supporting the repeal of the union-favored rule. On Monday it posted another one. Talking Points Memo has started writing about it, too, including this Monday story about labor activist lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.

    In a previous column/blog post about this issue last November, I argued that the airline concern about this rules change was overblown. A union representation lasts weeks, giving workers ample time to cast a ballot. National labor Relations Board statistics for April to September 2009, I noted, showed that 78% of eligible voters cast ballots in 638 elections under NLRB rules. In Fiscal  2009, under the NLRB rules, there were 1,185 union representation elections at workplaces with no union. NLRB statistics showed that unions won 67% of them, hardly an overwhelming number.

    I would argue, now, that my contention has been proven correct. There have been four unionization votes at Delta under the new rules, and in all of them the unionization effort has failed (although, duly noted, at least two of the unions have filed complaints with the NMB that Delta management improperly interfered in the elections). Two of the efforts failed by wide margins.

    The rules did make a difference, however, in a recent union representation vote by fleet and passenger service workers at AirTran (Aviation Daily subscriber-only story). The unionization effort likely would have fallen short under the old rules, given this vote count:  994 for union representation, 870 against, and 1,040 workers failing to cast ballots. If you think that doesn't anger or irritate airlines, check out the AirTran press release about the vote. The way the airline worded the release, you cannot even tell the union won. The headline merely "announces results," which the release describes as follows:
    "The Board informed the airline that 34 percent of the 2,904 eligible voters cast votes in favor of representation by the International Association of Machinists (IAM)-a majority of the votes cast. Thirty percent of eligible voters voted against representation and 36 percent of eligible voters did not vote." Nowhere in the release does AirTran make it clear that the unionization effort succeeded.

    Tags: tw99, airlines, unions, labor, maddow, dailykos

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