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For 75 years, since 1936 when Congress extended the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to include airline employees, the National Mediation Board (NMB) has been granted broad powers to act as a mediator in labor disputes between organized labor and employers. These powers include overseeing representational elections when it can be proven that at least thirty-five percent of the employees would like to be represented by a collective bargaining unit. And for 75 years, the voting procedures were such that only those votes cast in a representational election were counted.
In other words, those who did not vote were counted as not wanting representation or “no” votes. This process placed the burden on those seeking to make a change in the work environment and cast a vote in favor union representation.
This past summer the newly-appointed NMB – an independent agency of the executive branch – changed these rules at the urging of Big Labor bosses who knew elections were coming up at Delta Air Lines. The new rule meant that a simple majority meaning only those voting – and not a true majority – could determine the outcome of the entire workforce, making it easier for the union bosses to succeed in their quest to represent employees at Delta Air Lines.
The NMB is made up of a three members appointed by the president with advice and consent of the Senate. Two of these individuals who make up a quorum for conducting business, Linda Puchala and Harry Hoglander happen to be ex-officers of their respective unions, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and ALPA, the pilots union. The third member Elizabeth Dougherty, the sole, non-affiliated member served the previous administration in the White House and dissented on the rule change. Dougherty said, “This is the most dramatic policy shift in the history of the agency.”
For many of us, whether former workers for Northwest Airlines or Delta Airlines, we paid little attention to this change, mainly because there was not much we could do about it. The election was called and the ballot came out on September 29, 2010. The choices were, “Yes,” I want to be represented by the AFA; “No,” I do not want to be represented by the AFA; and third, a choice giving the voter the option of writing in their choice for representation. The results of the election on November 3, 2010 were extremely close. The turn out was impressive, as 19,887, over 94% of eligible voters cast their vote. Of these, 19,887 voters, 8,778 voted yes for representation and 9,544 voted no. The remaining votes were write-in votes for various other entities and individuals and not surprisingly, counted as votes for AFA representation even though they clearly were not votes in favor of unionization.
The results were clear: A simple majority of eligible voters spoke and said that they did NOT want the AFA as their representative. Even with the odds stacked against them by a new rule and a biased ballot, the message was resounding.
Now, the AFA is hoping to overturn the process that they fought so hard in favor of by alleging interference by way of coercion and harassment by the company during the campaign. This is ludicrous. The company provided information and a clear message that all votes counted. Clearly, the AFA is unwilling to accept the voice of the majority, while ironically claiming to want to be the voice for Delta Flight Attendants.
I am a Delta Air Lines Flight Attendant, former Northwest Flight Attendant and I voted NO in our representational election. At no time did I feel intimidated or harassed, or otherwise forced to vote one way or another by my company. On the contrary, if anyone tried to harass us it was the union approaching us at every opportunity, setting up tables at our lounges and calling our homes asking us how we were going to vote. Like most of us, I voted based on my personal conclusions, not because I was coerced or influenced by one side or another.
We waited patiently while the NMB and the AFA played with our lives and livelihoods in hopes of making it easier for the labor bosses to succeed They changed a rule in place for nearly a century, they presented us with a ballot that had two opportunities to vote for representation and only one opportunity to vote against it, and even with those odds, a resounding majority turned out and said NO. It is time that our decision is respected and accepted as final.
If the NMB accepts these fictional allegations of intimidation and the election is overturned or revoked it will paint the agency as completely biased and with one goal in mind – undermine a democratic outcome in favor of one party. The National Mediation Board’s job is to advance the will of workers in the airline and railroad industries, and in this case, they have spoken loudly and clearly.
Alberto Garcia is a Delta Flight Attendant.