Should a union need the support of most workers at a company in order to represent them? Most people would say yes—but most people are not union bosses. Unions want to represent as many dues paying members as possible. Whether those workers want their services is beside the point.
At the behest of union lobbyists, President Obama’s appointees to the National Mediation Board (NMB) rewrote the rules governing airline union elections. For the past 75 years, unions had to win the support of a majority of employees at an airline to unionize it. Now they need support from only a majority of those who turn out to vote.
This is a crucial difference, because workers in the airline industry are spread far and wide. Many airlines have many employees at a few major hubs, with smaller groups of employees stationed at regional airports around the country. Under the new rules, unions can focus their organizing efforts on the hubs and ignore the rest of the workforce, who may not even be aware that the election is happening. The new rules are designed to allow unions to organize a company even if only a small minority of workers supports them.
This just happened at AirTran, where the machinists union organized almost 3,000 workers with just 34 percent of the vote. While 30 percent of AirTran employees voted against the union, 36 percent did not vote at all. Under the new rules, they did not count. The union did not need their support to represent them.
If these workers later decide they do not like their representation, that’s just too bad. Airline employees get treated differently than most private-sector workers. The law establishes no procedure for them to decertify their union. Once airline employees unionize, that decision is almost impossible to reverse. Nor do state right-to-work laws apply to them. Unionized airline employees must pay union dues or get fired, no matter where they live.
If workers want to unionize, they certainly should be able—management gets the union it deserves. But workers should not have union representation and mandatory dues (of 1–2 percent of their pay) forced upon them.
Union bosses disagree. They want more dues-paying members, however they get them.
Obama said he would stand up to special-interest handouts. He said he would not side with the powerful against the powerless. Apparently he did not mean standing up for individual workers against unions that want their money or to union special interests.
Fortunately, Congress is moving to restore majority rule. A provision in the House Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill restores the NMB’s original majority support requirements. Unions are lobbying furiously to have this provision removed, and the House will vote on an amendment doing that on Friday. If the House retains this provision, it will have taken an important step to protect workers’ rights.