Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) like to portray themselves as the great defenders of democracy, protecting the “secret ballot” for workers everywhere. “There are sacred principles that epitomize American democracy,” wrote Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking member on the House Ed. and Labor committee, while attacking EFCA. “They have private ballots in America, but not in other countries where there are tyrannies and socialism,” agreed Mark McKinnon of the Workforce Fairness Institute (WFI).
But now that the National Mediation Board (NMB) — which oversees labor-management relations for the airline and railroad industries under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) — wants to issue a rule change making unionization elections in those two industries more democratic, Kline and WFI are singing a different tune.
Currently, under the RLA, employees who choose not to vote in a union election are counted as “no” votes, while under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees who don’t vote simply aren’t counted at all. So, in practice, this means that employees under RLA must get a majority of employees to vote affirmatively, while those under NLRA must get a majority of voting members to do so, just like in an election for a political office.
The NMB wants to change the RLA’s rules, to equalize the two processes. Kline and WFI reacted like this:
Republican Reps. John Kline (Minn.) and John Mica (Fla.) issued a release that called it a radical proposal that adds “to a troubling perception that federal agencies have embraced a culture of union favoritism.” […] The Workforce Fairness Institute issued a press release titled “Forced Unionization” in response to the proposed rule change, and criticized the NMB for providing a “bailout” to the AFL-CIO.
The NMB has opened its proposed change up to a 60-day comment period, and with their respective responses, Kline and WFI reveal that their opposition has nothing to do with democracy. It’s about preventing unions from gaining more members, at all costs. After all, in what other election do people who don’t vote get counted for one side or the other?
Much like the push in Congress to bring truck drivers for FedEx under the NLRA, this rule change would eliminate an odd inequity in the system that is the product of the antiquated RLA, which was written in 1934. There is no reason to have the deck stacked against railway and airline workers, simply because they are pulled under an older law. But to Kline and WFI, it seems, whichever rules make it harder to form a union are those that epitomize democracy.