Today, a longstanding injustice was rectified. After decades of operating within a system that is rigged against them, airline and rail workers have gained a right that most of us take for granted—the right to vote in elections where the majority of those participating wins.
After lengthy consideration, the National Mediation Board (NMB), which governs union organizing and collective bargaining mediation under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), has implemented a much needed change in union election procedures for workers.
The change levels a playing field that has been uneven for too long.
Until now, workers in the airline and rail industries had to fight an uphill battle in order to exercise their right to choose union representation. When the rest of the country votes in an election, we readily expect that the majority of votes cast will determine the outcome of that election. This concept is such a fundamental tenet of our democracy that we don’t even give it a second thought.
But in elections held to establish union representation for railroad and aviation workers, a majority of the entire workforce must participate in order to validate the election. In other words, under the old rules if less than half of the workers voted, and they voted unanimously for a union, they still lost the election. Given that less than half of our country’s eligible voters turn out even for mid-term national elections, it’s not surprising that this arrangement favored management.
In other industries, workers choose union representation using standard U.S. election procedures; it is patently unfair that railroad and airline workers have been singled out and held to a higher standard. That is why we requested changes to this un-democratic rule.
We’re not entirely surprised by the opposition’s threats to pursue legal challenges but we are puzzled why the Air Transport Association will drag this matter through the courts on behalf of a dwindling minority of its membership. We are even more puzzled by Member Dougherty’s dissent. It is difficult for us to imagine how any sitting Member of the NMB can oppose applying the same basic Democratic standards to union elections as those used to elect the very Senators that vote to confirm NMB members.
In the face of overwhelming evidence in support of the rule change, the NMB majority has made the appropriate decision to change union election rules. In doing so, they’ve left behind an era of unfair elections and voter suppression campaigns that flourished under the old rules. And they have upheld the validity and importance of the democratic process.