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Labor Wins Changes for Airline, Railroad Elections

May 20, 2010

rail freight photo

A May 10 ruling by the National Mediation Board substantially democratizes the union representation process for railroad and airline employees, giving workers covered by the Railway Labor Act more to freedom to form a union.

Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department says that rule change will make sure that:


Only workers who cast a vote( in union elections) will be counted … No longer will employers be able to simply keep voter turnout low as a means to trample on employees’ right to freely choose whether to unionize.

Under the old system, any worker not voting in a union representation election was counted as a “no” vote. The new rule will allow railroad and airline workers to vote using the same method used in every other union and political election, using only the number of votes cast to decide the outcome.   

As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson recently wrote about the campaign to change the NMB’s regulations:

Under the RLA … the rules for forming unions are very different: The entire nationwide work force must vote in a single election, and the union must obtain a majority not just of the workers voting but of voters and non-voters combined. (If a comparable rule held for presidential elections, requiring the winner to obtain a majority of the adult population of the United States, it's not clear that this nation would have had a president since -- well, ever.)

The Railway Labor Act covers employees in the railroad and airline industries. For decades, the antiquated voting rules used by the NMB have thwarted many unionization attempts, including at FedEx. The 3-member National Mediation Board is the federal mediator for the airlines and railroad industries.

“This a vital step to ensuring fair play for all railroad workers,” said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. “No longer will they be considered second-class citizens when it comes to exercising their freedom to organize and associate in the workplace.”

For more information, check out the Transportation Trades Department Web site.


Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user TomSpinker