Last December, the Communications Workers of America filed a request for a union election endorsed by 35 percent of American Airlines’ ticket agents and airport workers, which at the time was the percentage necessary to trigger an election to decide whether those workers could be unionized. Two months later, Congress changed the law to require 50 percent of the union-eligible workers in an airline to call for an election before one could happen, raising the question of whether a valid election request filed under then-valid law must still be honored. Yesterday, George H.W. Bush-appointed Judge Terry Means effectively said no, issuing a temporary restraining order against an election campaign that was supposed to begin today.
Whatever the merits of Means’ thinly-reasoned decision — nearly all of Judge Means’ legal reasoning on the merits of this case is confined to a brief footnote contained in a separate three-page order — his orders leave little doubt about his hostility towards unions. At one point, Judge Means opines that merely allowing American’s workers to vote on whether they want to exercise their right to organize will “irreparably” injure the company “by damage to its reputation among its employees and loss of marketplace goodwill likely to result from a contentious election campaign.”
Ultimately, however, this decision is far more of an indictment of the absurdity of American labor law — especially in the context of airlines — than it is of a single judge’s order. The entire purpose of a union election is to determine whether a majority of the workforce wishes to organize under a particular union or not. If 50 percent of the workforce have already answered that question in the affirmative, there’s absolutely no reason why a redundant election such be necessary.