Without discussion in conference committee, nor warning, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal to include changes to the Railway Labor Act as part of the FAA Reauthorization bill. The language is approximately 5 pages, most of which is taking NMB election rule manual language and changing it in order to add this language to the actual statute. Until last week, the Railway Labor Act had remained unchanged since 1936.
The changes will not immediately impact our current contracts, nor our union representation. The changes will make it difficult for aviation and rail workers to form or gain union representation in the future and the changes do provide a threat to current contracts and representation through mergers. We are also concerned with the impact on current bargaining. The National Mediation Board is a micro-agency with just over 50 employees. The agency’s resources are stretched thin with hundreds of negotiations throughout aviation and rail, many representation cases and requirements to hearing requests from ideologues in the House of Representatives. Managing the affects of the law change and increasing the likelihood of litigation will further tax the agency’s resources and make it difficult to the necessary attention on our current bargaining.
We should be clear that the changes to the law do not change the bargaining process, nor our right to engage in self-help or CHAOS™ should management intransigence lead to a strike deadline.
In addition to writing into law additional oversight and scrutiny of the NMB’s work, the primary change is moving election manual language into the law itself and changing a threshold for a union election from 35% showing of interest to 50%. While on its face this may sound reasonable, there are several problems including:
• treatment of the eligibility list
• the affect on contracts in a merger
• minority rule elections
• litigation that slows elections and threatens free choice
• stalling union elections
Treatment of the eligibility list
Under the Railway Labor Act today, management controls the eligibility list. The National Mediation Board will review management’s list should the union challenge eligibility, but the union has no way to review the list prior to submission by management. This means that the union never actually knows what the actual percentage is in support of the union. For example, in the case currently before the NMB for an election among American Airlines passenger service agents, management has included on the list a group of over 1000 call center employees who have not been working since shortly after September 11, 2001. In a recent election for Flight Attendants at Delta, management actually included a dead person on the list and she was counted as eligible. The eligibility list is a problem today – but the problem is exacerbated under these new provisions, raising the bar from 35% showing of interest to 50%.
The affect on contracts in a merger
In a merger a showing of interest is presented through a seniority list of those workers represented by a specific union. That list can be expanded with cards signed by the non-represented group, but the timeline on this is tight and the fact is that accomplishing this task would be extremely difficult – providing management a roadmap to extinguish contracts and union representation.
Minority rule elections
The change to the law essentially codifies minority-rule elections, so that if Union A receives 40 percent of the votes, Union B receives 25 percent of the votes, and the remaining 35 percent of the employees vote “no union,” the run-off will be between Union A and no union, even though 65 percent of the employees resoundingly defeated the “no union” option.
Litigation that slows elections and threatens free choice
The practical affect of changing the statute to include the 50% showing of interest requirement among any work group will essentially take away a worker’s right to a secret ballot. It is voter suppression. Moving the NMB’s election rules over which they retain jurisdiction to the statute itself means the Board loses its ability to protect workers from management discovery of their request for union representation. Holding up the election through litigation provides the employer time to obtain the union authorization cards signed by their employees and could lead to direct intimidation or retaliation.
Example: through the litigation discovery process management could get a copy of signed authorization cards. Management calls the worker into the office one at a time and asks the worker if it’s her/his signature. The worker either:
1. confirms and sets themselves up for retaliation, or
2. lies in fear of her/his job and the card is removed from the count
Either way – the change would make it virtually impossible for workers to form or join a union ever again in aviation or rail.
Stalling union elections
And, delaying the process through litigation simply provides more time for the employer to wage its campaign and intimidation tactics or efforts to dilute or eliminate the workforce seeking representation.
Taking Action – Fighting Back
Today’s threats to workers and to their unions are almost unbelievable in their scope, and stunning in their callousness. Our union is mounting a defense and means to fight back against this latest attack on our rights and we must always remember that the money the 1% spends to buy their agenda can only be successful if the 99% fails to stand up for truth and fight for justice.
On February 6, nearly 400 Flight Attendants from over 20 airlines gathered in uniform at LAX, with supporters from across the country, to protest the latest attack on our collective bargaining rights. We were joined by a coalition of labor unions who represent workers at LAX and who are fighting against outsourcing of their jobs and attacks on their contracts.
Senate voting on the FAA reauthorization bill began at virtually the same time as the OccuFLY event. AFA members were not only on the picket line – in extraordinary numbers we took action together to oppose a sneak attack on our collective bargaining rights and called on our Senators and Representatives to vote against the FAA reauthorization bill as long as it contained the unrelated labor provision to obliterate one of our nation’s oldest labor laws, the Railway Labor Act. In only a few days your calls garnered support from 157 Democrats in the House and 15 Democratic Senators to stand against destruction of good jobs. A handful of Republicans also voted against the bill, but their reasons included concern that it didn’t go far enough to destroy workers’ rights to join a union and a belief that there should be no government funding to support the regulation of U.S. aviation.
It is critical that we recognize the consequences of elections and work together in this election year to promote elected officials who will support our issues as Flight Attendants. We cannot allow this change to the Railway Labor Act to remain in place if we are to have a chance of defending our rights – and actually pressing forward to advance our careers.
Look for every opportunity to call attention to this issue. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, just like this example from an AFA member in New Hampshire:
Finally, make sure you can vote in the elections this year. Now more than ever corporations will be spending billions to attempt to buy their way on Capitol Hill and in the White House. As the 1% controls more wealth than the bottom 50% of our country the money can be overwhelming, but we can overcome it if we vote. Make sure you are registered and help our representatives understand that Flight Attendants vote and our voices will be heard!