Transportation union has Delta squarely in its sights

A rule change made by the Obama administration last May aimed at making it easier to unionize has put Delta Airlines squarely in union sights.

The new rule approved by the National Mediation Board — the body responsible for ruling on labor issues in the transportation industry — makes it easier to organize by allowing a simple majority of those voting in a union election to decide its outcome. The board approved the new rule following a Sept. 2009 letter from the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department asking the board to make it easier for transportation unions to win elections.

The old rule that had been in place prior to the change, dating back to the 1930s, required a union to win the backing of a majority of an entire class of workers, such as flight attendants. The Supreme Court upheld the former rule as constitutional twice.

Under the old rule, 10,001 of Delta’s approximately 20,000 flight attendants would have needed to vote for union representation for an election to be successful. Those who chose not to vote in the union election were counted as “no” votes under the old rule.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing approximately 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, has held three unsuccessful union elections for Delta’s flight attendants in the past eight years, including in 2002, 2008 and this past November.

“The purpose of this rule change was similar to the purpose of card check – to make it easier for unions to gain representation rights in view of their repeated rejections by employees under the traditional rules,” Delta’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, Andrea Fischer Newman, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Caller.

The AFL-CIO justified its petition for the new rule by contending tabulating those who opted not to vote as “no” votes was undemocratic.

“No where in American Democracy  ̶  other than  during a union election in the airline and railroad industry  ̶   does an eligible voter wishing to sit out an election have his or her vote tabulated as a NO vote by virtue of non-participation,” the AFL-CIO wrote in its Sept. 2009 letter to the board. “Permitting such a veto-by-silence or inaction obviously sabotages the expressed will of the voting majority and creates a perverse incentive for vote-suppression efforts by employers.”

Delta’s management has taken particular issue with how the new rule was adopted, pointing out that National Mediation Board Chairman Harry Hoglander and board member Linda Puchala are both former transportation union executives. The company also contends that Elizabeth Dougherty, the lone dissenting vote on the board, was squeezed out of the process.