White House Proposes Lowering Barriers to Rail, Airline Unionizing

Rail and airline employees would face lowered barriers to unionizing under a new rule announced today by the Obama administration that would put union elections for workers in both modes of transportation on an equal footing with other industries.

rail_network_train_workers_us_auto_industry_jobs_image.jpgRail workers would have an easier path to unionizing under the new rule. (Photo: TreeHugger)

The rule, approved on a 2-1 vote by the National Mediation Board (NMB), would end a decades-old practice of counting employees who abstain or do not vote in union elections as "no" votes, thus making the process of organizing workers more difficult.

The Senate labor committee’s chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA), hailed the unionizing shift in a statement. “NMB’s long
overdue rule change ensures that all American workers will have a voice
in the workplace and a right to fair wages and work
conditions," said Harkin, who had joined more than three dozen fellow senators in endorsing the new rule in December.

In practice, the NMB’s move is more likely to affect airlines than railroads, where the majority of workers are already represented by labor unions. Indeed, the Air Transport Association — which represents the interests of leading domestic airlines — is already moving ahead with a legal challenge to the new rule, the Associated Press reported today.

Nonetheless, surface transportation labor interests joined Harkin in welcoming the NMB announcement, published in today’s Federal Register. James Little, president of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), said in a statement that "today’s decision was long overdue" and would spur his group to new organizing drives.

"TWU lost elections in the past
because many supposed voters were on leave or in the hospital or
unreachable – every non-vote was counted against our union," Little said.

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