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Big Leg Up for Labor in Delta Battle

The most recent evidence of just how determined the Republicans are to wreck the labor movement was provided by the battle they waged to block a rule change governing how the National Mediation Board (NMB) conducts union elections in the aviation and rail industries.  Fortunately, their attempt to block it failed.

Crazy as this will sound, under the old rules of the RLA (Railway Labor Act), airline and railway employees were denied the right to abstain.  Instead of being allowed to skip the election—to remain neutral on whether or not to join a union—employees who didn’t vote were automatically counted as having voted No.   Worse, many employees didn’t even know the rule existed.

Imagine the outrage if this same stunt were applied to a hot-button issue like abortion or immigration.  “Should we ban abortions—yes or no?  Those who don’t vote will be counted as having voted No.” It would never happen.  Yet, the Republicans fought to keep this perversion of democracy in place.  Give credit to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and her crew for setting this right.

The RLA rule change will definitely affect a vote that is currently taking place at Delta Airlines, the world’s largest carrier.  On September 29, 20,000 Delta employees began voting on whether to join the AFA-CWA (Association of Flight Attendants), a union with 50,000 members affiliated with 22 airlines.

Another factor that could affect the vote is Delta’s 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines, a merger that added 7,000 unionized employees to its roster.  Even though Delta has gone out and hired themselves some very expensive, very ruthless union-busting agents to poison the well, the vote is expected to go the union’s way.

For one thing, flight attendants are savvy; they realize that without representation they’re vulnerable to all sorts of mischief.  For another, the entire industry is still awed by Southwest Airlines—recognized as the most efficient and most successful carrier in the U.S.   Southwest also happens to be the most unionized carrier in the industry.  Airline unions look very attractive right now.

Voting ends on November 3, at which time the National Mediation Board will begin tabulating the votes.  Win or lose, the AFA-CWA can be assured of one thing:  the Delta ballots will be counted the proper way.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net