Economy & Budget

Mini Card Check Advanced by Obama Appointees

If you blinked on May 11, you probably missed a little-reported decision from a little-known government board that deals primarily with members of airline and railway unions.

By a vote of 2-to-1, the National Mediation Board okayed an unprecedented new regulation repealing “majority rule” among those workers it oversees—employees of the airlines and railways—when voting to organize a union. Under the new resolution, only a majority of those voting among workers at a particular business will be required to organize rather than a majority of the entire organizing unit.

In other words, only those airline and railway workers who choose to vote on whether they want to organize a union will make that decision. One does not have to be an authority on union organizing to guess that this change of rules makes it much easier for labor leaders to expand union membership, thus enhancing their powers.

“It’s ‘mini card check,’ pure and simple,” one expert on labor issues from the business side (who requested anonymity) told me, likening the NMB decision to labor’s much-sought provision in the Employee Free Choice Act that severely waters down the secret ballot in union election. “This is a blatantly political and, like ‘card check,’ it tips the process of union elections to the labor bosses.”

In many ways, this ruling demonstrates the Obama Administration’s clear commitment to playing political hard-ball as well as to doing the bidding of organized labor. Established by Congress in 1935 under the Railway Labor Act and with the support of the Roosevelt Adminstration, the National Mediation Board (NMB) is actually older than the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees the organizing of most unions. Created to deal exclusively with interconnected networks, the NMB initially oversaw railroads and, as air travel became more common, its oversight was expanded to air carriers.

As to why the May 11 ruling on union organizing raises alarms: With two Obama appointees now the majority of the three-person NMB, the board has turned an about-face on its 75-year-policy. No fewer than four times throughout its history, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, the NMB has rejected challenges to the “majority rule.” In addition, the Supreme Court twice upheld this concept.

The sudden change to what critics brand “mini card check” is the work of the two Obama appointees to the NMB, both of whom have long histories with unions: Linda Puchala, past president of the International Flight Attendants Association, and Harry Hoglander, himself a former pilot and active member of the Airline Pilots Association.

Wired, Packed, Rigged, and Stacked

The lone Bush appointee to the NMB and its current chairman, Elizabeth Dougherty, wrote a 22-page, sharply-worded dissent to the ruling. Denouncing the decisions by her two fellow board members, Dougherty pointed out that “this independent agency has never been in the business of making controversial, one-sided rule changes at the behest of only labor or management.” (The chairman went on to point out that the decision by her two colleagues was prepared and advanced without her knowledge or input and that “I was excluded from any discussion regarding the timing of the proposed rule.”).

Had enough? But there’s more: There is no provision in the Railway Labor Act for members who vote to unionize to later decertify a union. Thus, under the new ruling, if say, an airline has 5,000 employees, and only 200 vote on whether to organize a union, that means that 101 employees could vote to unionize permanently.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R.-Ga.) is one lawmaker who has studied this ruling and concludes it is both unfair and egregious. Isakson has introduced legislation to undo the May 11th decision. Others should follow suit—making this issue known and rallying their members of Congress to roll back a ruling that is clearly a payback to the union chieftains who helped make Barack Obama president and gave Democrats their current majorities in both the House and Senate.

And the May 11 vote should serve as a warning to pay attention to just who the President puts on regulatory panels and what the scope of their authority is. If a vote by two board members of a little-known agency can make “mini-card check” happen, think what could come next.

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