Union shenanigans thwart democracy

Matt Patterson Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, ATR
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On November 3rd, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) failed in its bid to represent Delta Air Lines flight attendants after a heated, five-week-long campaign. In a 9,544 to 8,778 vote, Delta flight attendants reaffirmed their oft-expressed desire to remain a union-free shop. Game over, the matter settled, right?

Not quite. The AFA has cried foul, alleging to the National Mediation Board — which oversees labor-relations matters for railroads and airliners — that Delta improperly interfered with the election, specifically that “hundreds of Delta/Northwest flight attendants have reported coercive and unfair methods used by management to influence the results of the recent union election,” including “meddling and repeated supervisor phone calls to flight attendant homes telling them to vote.” Delta denies the charges, calling the appeal “ridiculous.” The union is now asking the NMB for a revote.

I wonder how that’s going to go. President Barrack Obama has appointed two of the board’s three-member panel, both former airline-union officials — Linda A. Puchala is a former International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, and Chairman Harry Hoglander was once Executive Vice-President of the Air Line Pilots Association. Unsurprisingly, this Obama-stacked NMB recently amended its rules under the Railway Labor Act to make it easier for unions to win elections — for over seventy years, non-votes were counted as ‘no’ votes; now, thanks to Obama’s NMB, unions can win with only a majority of votes cast.

Atlanta-based Delta is virtually alone among big airlines in remaining largely immune to unionization. The recent election, the biggest private-sector union elections since 1941, is a result of Delta’s 2008 acquisition of Northwest Airlines, whose more union-friendly workers were unable to transmogrify Delta’s notoriously stubborn anti-union culture (Delta ramp and cargo workers recently rejected union representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, as well).

Delta’s November victories have enraged unions, who had counted on the NMB’s rule changes and the influx of union-inured Northwest workers to crack the Delta nut, whose 20,000 flight attendants represent to union bosses a vast untapped resource of union dues, cash which could then be funneled to favored liberal politicians like Barack Obama, who can then strengthen the bureaucracy in favor of unions and push for legislation that restricts worker choice, like the so-called “card check,” which would eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.

Delta workers have been courageous in their repeated attempts to resist this tide and remain masters of their own fate; unfortunately, the corrupt bargain between Big Labor and liberal politicians is conspiring to strangle their democratically expressed wishes. It is outrageous that a federal board charged with resolving labor disputes is comprised of former union officials. How can two former airline-union leaders possibly adjudicate the Delta election in a dispassionate manner? How is it possible that Puchala and Hoglander will not be forced to recuse themselves in light of their obvious loyalties?

The concentration of political power in the hands of non-elected, bureaucratic elites, like those comprising the NMB, is one of the great untold stories of the modern era, and represents nothing less than an assault on democracy by the liberal left and its allies.

Matt Patterson is editor of Labor Watch and a contributor to Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010). His email is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.