Democracy must be restored to union elections

Major changes to the nation’s labor laws should be made by elected representatives, not partisan presidential appointees serving on obscure bureaucratic panels.

But last year, without any deliberation by Congress, two Democrats on the three-member National Mediation Board jettisoned the organization’s own legal precedent, dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s day, to make it easier for unions to organize railroad and airline workers and harder for managers to offer counter arguments.

In what is being billed as the biggest showdown between Congress and organized labor so far this year, House members will soon vote on Title IX of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which would override the National Mediation Board’s unwarranted seizure of congressional authority and restore the traditional limits on union power.

Here’s how the National Mediation Board did its mischief: The law as it has been interpreted for 75 years requires union organizers to get the consent of a majority of employees on a firm’s payroll before the union can begin acting as their collective bargaining agent. If 51 percent vote to unionize, all of their fellow workers are forced to join the union and pay mandatory union dues. They are subject to termination if they refuse.

President Barack Obama’s two Democratic appointees to the three-member board changed the majority requirement. Instead of garnering the approval of a majority of all workers, the National Mediation Board decided union organizers only had to win a majority of those who voted in the union election. This change has led to decidedly undemocratic outcomes.

For example, only 994 AirTran Airways workers were able to force all 2,900 of their fellow employees to become members of the International Association of Machinists even though 66 percent never voted to unionize.

The old rule is a hard sell in an era in which only 21.8 percent of all transportation workers are unionized, which is itself a relatively high percentage compared to the paltry 6.9 percent of total union members in the private sector.

For that reason, union apologists are nonsensically claiming that efforts to restore the old majority precedent, led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., amount to “institutionalizing voter fraud in union elections.”

Their excessive overreaction to a return to the 75-year-old status quo is telling. Union officials apparently fear they can’t convince more than 50 percent of workers to show up to vote, let alone cast ballots in favor of unionizing. The only fair way to do these elections is to guarantee all employees a secret ballot and require that a majority vote for or against unionizing.

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