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NMB's proposed union election rule changes draw support, criticism


The National Mediation Board (NMB) recently proposed a rule that would reform the union election voting process at railroads and airlines.

The board is proposing to change the threshold for a successful union election from a majority of eligible voters in a classification to a majority of voters who actually participate in an election. The NMB is accepting comments on the proposal until Jan. 4. 2010.

“The board believes that this change to its election procedures will provide a more reliable measure/indicator of employee sentiment in representation disputes and provide employees with clear choices in representation matters,” NMB members said in a proposed rule change notice.

Several labor organizations expressed support for the proposed rule, including the Teamsters.

The rule would enable workers to choose a union “the same way they choose the president of the United States,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa in a prepared statement.

“This reform brings union elections up to modern standards of democratic election law,” he said. “It gives workers the right to sit out an election if they choose, just as they can sit out the presidential election.”

The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department also backs the “sensible reforms” because rail and airline workers would obtain “fair union election rules,” said President Edward Wytkind.

If a worker doesn’t vote, it doesn’t mean he or she didn’t want to be represented by a union, he said, adding that workers sometimes sit out union elections because of pressure from company management.

“With this change, never again will workers in these industries seeking to form a union be thwarted by such un-democratic rules,” said Wytkind.

However, the National Right to Work Foundation believes the rule would force unionism at non-union workplaces.

“The proposed change imposes a greater burden on employees who wish to refrain from union membership by forcing them to either take affirmative action to oppose the union or otherwise potentially allow far less than a majority to make that decision for them,” said foundation Vice President Stefan Gleason. “Individual workers should never be forced into union ranks against their will.”

In addition, Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and John Mica (R-Fla.) criticized the proposal, questioning the NMB’s limited review process for developing the new policy.
“The proposal to rapidly and radically alter rail and aviation organizing rules at the behest of organized labor adds to a troubling perception that federal agencies have embraced a culture of union favoritism,” said Kline.
The “dramatic change in long-standing union election procedures” would enable a minority of workers to “force unionization upon all workers, including those who are not interested in being represented by a union," added Mica.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/4/2009