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Republicans Are Going After Unions at the Federal Level Too

March 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

While all the attention on the Republicans’ union busting agenda has been focused on the states, Republicans in Congress have been quietly moving forward with anti-union legislation on the federal level. In February, the House Transportation Committee marked up a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill (H.R.658) that contains this innocuous looking provision on page 260 of 261:


Effective January 1, 2011, the rule prescribed by the National Mediation Board relating to representation election procedures published on May 11, 2010 (95 Fed. Reg. 26062) and revising sections 1202 and 1206 of title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect.

The language would amend rules for rail and aviation workers who try to form a union so that when a worker does not show up to vote at an election on certifying a union, they’re automatically counted as a vote against forming the union. Under current rules, workers that don’t show up to vote are simply not counted. The current rules were established by the National Mediation Board last July, bringing this aspect of the transportation industry’s union rules into parity with all other industries.

The bill will come up for a vote in the House soon, and it’s expected to pass. The question is what happens when it moves to a conference committee to be reconciled with a corresponding Senate FAA bill, which does not include the anti-union language. As HuffPo reports, it’s not clear that Senate Democrats are committed to it:

Union operatives have turned their sights to the Senate, where a different version of the FAA reauthorization bill passed in mid-February. Sens. Jay Rockeller (D-W.V.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are being petitioned especially heavily to strip [the anti-union] provision when the two congressional chambers meet to merge their respective bills.


Costello, the Illinois congressman, predicted that the measure would not pass the Senate. “And if it does,” he added, “I would doubt the White House would sign the bill with the provision in it. I think it’s a showstopper.”

Such public resolve, however, is somewhat at odds with blunt political calculations. While Harkin and others may be insisting that Mica’s provision be exorcised from the bill, in private, aides question whether the appetite is there to hold the line.

“Now that it is in the bill and it is going to conference, the dynamics have changed,” acknowledged one top Democratic Senate aide. “Senator Harkin would of course vehemently say it shouldn’t be in there. But the question is, will people vote down the entire bill over it?”

While last year’s rule change was a cherished breakthrough for the labor community, the practical impact has not been as widely felt as anticipated, Democratic aides noted. One aide opposed to Mica’s provision said unions have actually had a lower success rate since the NMB’s ruling, winning only nine of 17 elections. “The new rule, in and of itself, will not cause an avalanche of unionism,” the aide added, in an effort to downplay conservative critiques.

UPDATE: I should add that Rep. John Mica [R, FL-7], the primary sponsor of the FAA bill, has received more money from the airline industry than from any other industry. $92,200 in the 2009-2010 cycle alone. Check out his full money trail here.

Photo from Flickr user Zen used under a CC license.

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