If at First You Don’t Succeed, Change the Rules.
From attempting to manipulate the definition of “supervisor” to changing the way in which workers are organized, the above seems to be a guiding principle in organized labor’s bold new approach to increasing union membership. Consistent with that, some union friendly government officials are trying to change the way in which votes for some workers are counted.
Today, as The Wall Street Journal reports, National Mediation Board chair Elizabeth Dougherty wrote to more than a dozen Republican senators, protesting her colleagues’ proposed rule change (sent to the Federal Register on October 29) that would change the way in which votes are counted in organizing elections under the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
Under a 75-year-old interpretation of the Railway Labor Act, any employees who don’t vote on whether to create a union are counted as “no” votes. That means a union can’t be approved without a full majority of all employees voting in favor of it.
Under the National Labor Relations Act governing other industries, a union can be created as long as a majority of all votes cast are in favor of collective bargaining. In such elections, nonvotes don’t count either way.
Earlier this year, the White House named Linda Puchala, a former leader of a flight-attendant union, to the NMB to succeed Read Van de Water, a former lobbyist for Northwest Airlines. Harry Hoglander, a board member since 2002, is a former union leader for pilots.
Ms. Dougherty joined the NMB’s board in 2006. A registered Republican, she served as a labor adviser to Mr. Bush earlier this decade.
In September, the AFL-CIO union formally asked the NMB to adopt the same voting rules as the National Labor Relations Act, arguing that the unionization-election process under the Railway Labor Act is undemocratic.
In its proposal published Monday, the NMB agreed, saying that “few if any” democratic elections treat nonvotes as “no votes.” Allowing a contrary policy, as under the current NMB union-voting rules, “could allow those lacking the interest or will to vote to supersede the wishes of those who do take the time and trouble to cast ballots,” the agency added.
Opponents of the overhaul say the higher bar for unionization was set up to protect interstate commerce from disruption. They also argue the law hasn’t hindered unionization: Roughly two-thirds of airline employees and more than three-quarters of railroad workers are organized, according to industry estimates, far higher than the 12% rate across the entire U.S. economy.
That’s a major change, but the unions are not about to stop there in their efforts in this area. The Teamsters, in cooperation with UPS, are trying to move employees of FedEx — UPS’ competitor and a Teamsters organizing target — out from being regulated under the RLA to jurisdiction under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Unlike the NLRA, the Railway Labor Act requires unionization to be carried out company-wide. This prevents the creation of balkanized work rules that could result from piecemeal unionization at individual facilities. UPS began as a ground transport company, so most of its employees are covered under the NLRA.
However, the Teamsters are UPS have pursued that change through the legislative process. Now some union allies are pursuing a similar change through the regulatory process. When it comes to changing the organizing rules, Big Labor seems more likely to keep persisting.
For more on the RLA, see here.