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With public sentiment turning against organized labor, unions have enlisted obscure federal bureaucrats to help bolster their ranks. The Department of Labor has been busy rolling back transparency initiatives put in place during the last decade; the National Labor Relations Board is considering rules which would guarantee union organizers access to private property; the National Mediation Board (NMB) is easing union election rules for unions.

Of the three agencies charged with administering different facets of labor-employer relations, none has been more blatantly pro-union than the NMB over the past two years. Founded in 1934, the National Mediation Board is charged with overseeing labor-management disputes in the railroad and airline industries. The three member board—currently comprised of two former union officials and a Bush holdover—showed its true colors soon after its members were assembled. In its first major decision, the NMB ruled that transportation unions only needed to receive a majority of votes cast as oppose to a majority of all workers votes for the union to be certified.

From the union’s perspective, transportation workers are ideal union members. Workers are required to pay union dues if they want to keep their job—right to work laws are not applicable to this industry. Compounding workers’ problems, once a transportation union is elected it is virtually impossible to get rid of union representation. It is so difficult under the NMB’s rules that it has never been done in a group with more than 1000 employees. Coupled together, these policies make transportation workers a golden goose for unions—workers have to pony up hard earned cash, indefinitely.

The NMB’s move to facilitate union organizing was thought to have huge implications in looming union elections. One such showdown is between Delta’s flight attendants and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA). 

When AFA called for an election, more then 94 percent of Delta flight attendants—nearly 19,000 employees—cast votes in what was sure to be a highly contested election. Of the 18,760 ballots cast, the National Mediation Board certified that 9,544 workers cast ballots for no representation, while 8,760 votes cast for AFA. But the NMB also counted 430 write-in votes – including 189 blank votes – as votes for union representation, so the AFA officially fell short of a majority by 300 votes.    

This was no anomaly; unions have lost seven of the seven Delta employee elections they’ve called for. Delta's below-wing airport customer service workers, cargo warehouse employees, simulator technicians, meteorologists, passenger service employees, stock clerks and flight attendants all rejected unions at the ballot box. The simulator technicians rejected unionization twice.

In two other groups, the unions voluntarily decertified without an election after it became apparent they couldn’t get majority support.  Thus, among nine groups, involving 56,000 employees, none has chosen to have union representation.

Unable to persuade Delta employees on the merits of their argument, unions have run to the NMB crying foul play. Unions are hoping that a sympathetic board will invalidate the democratically conducted elections, arbitrarily penalize Delta, and then call for another election. Revealing how baseless the union’s case before the NMB is, unions have challenged Delta for encouraging voter participation.

Senator Johnny Issakson (R-Ga.) and a group of 37 senators sent a letter to the National Mediation Board expressing similar concerns:

“While the Board Majority’s past actions with regard to the Delta-Northwest merger makes us question its impartiality in this case…a clear majority of voting flight attendants had to vote for no union representation for the AFA not to represent Delta flight attendants following the representation election. That is precisely the choice Delta flight attendants made.”

A similar letter from Americans for Tax Reform and nineteen other conservative groups and activists concludes:

“Despite the threats and bullying of the unions, it is the will of the people – the will of these employees democratically expressed through these elections – that should be honored.”
Initially unable to unionize Delta’s workers, the National Mediation Board eased election rules moving the goal posts at the behest of Big Labor. Now, after every union couldn’t persuade Delta’s workers to elect them, unions are yet again knocking on the NMB’s doors looking to avail themselves by superseding democratic elections. This is special interest politics at its worst—selling out workers for politically connected groups.