Skip to main content

New Rules for Air, Railway Union Elections

Jeremy Sprinkle
Social share icons

Non-votes no longer counted as "No" votes

Air and railway companies have long had an unfair advantage when their workers tried to form a union. Old rules - tossed out today by the National Mediation Board (NMB) - mean workers covered by the Rail Labor Act will no longer have the votes not cast by their coworkers in a union election counted as "No" votes.

The AFL-CIO Blog has the story:

For decades, the deck has been stacked against workers covered under the Rail Labor Act (RLA) because every worker who did not cast a vote in a representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote. The new NMB rule says that an election’s outcome will be decided by the majority of votes cast, just like every other election, from city council to the presidency.

Success in organizing has as much to do with having a fair process as anything else. Railway and airline workers who have lost bids to form a union only because more people chose not to vote than voted for a union can now win with a simple majority of those who do vote.

"It makes it a lot easier," says Richard Westbrook, NC AFL-CIO Vice President and Legislative Director for the United Transportation Union (UTU) in North Carolina:

"Before, you'd go into a place with 300 workers and sign up 90% for the union, but only 100 voted. The other 200 didn't vote at all, and it didn't work because they were counted as "No" votes."

The change to a more democratic union election process provides a better opportunity for workers in in the smaller, commuter airline sector to form unions, says Westbrook. "We're organizing a lot more airlines where there is no union, and we're working with major unions at the bigger carriers to do it."

Obama appointees made this change possible

Last year, President Obama appointed and the U.S. Senate confirmed two Democrats to the three-person NMB - Harry Hoglander, a retired Air Force and TWA pilot, and Linda Puchala, past president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. The rule change was proposed in November and enacted over the objection of the third NMB member, Chairman and Bush-appointee, Elizabeth Dougherty.

While this action taken by the National Mediation Board is important, it is but one small step in reforming our nation's broken labor laws. The reforms outlined in the Employee Free Choice Act would go a lot further toward leveling the playing field for all workers who want to form a union and have a contract and a voice at work.