Obama Can Fix ‘Unreasonable Burdens On Business’

Katie Gage
February 15, 2011

Just over a year ago, and without a tremendous amount of attention from the national media, a little-known agency changed nearly a century of labor policy in favor of union bosses and to the detriment of workers in the airline and railway industries. The three-member agency known as the National Mediation Board (NMB) reversed a 75 year old precedent whereby a majority of a workforce was required to determine whether a collective bargaining unit had been formed. Under the new rule enforced by this regulatory agency, only a majority of those voting are needed to form a collective bargaining unit, meaning a small number of workers can decide every employee’s fate.

To demonstrate this point, if a company employs 100 railroad workers, one would think 51 votes are required to form a collective bargaining unit. But under the new rules, which upend labor policy upheld by both Republican and Democratic Administrations, only a majority of those voting are required to create the union. Therefore, if 50 workers vote, only 26 pro-union votes are needed, meaning 74 people are affected by the decision, whether they support unionization or not.

This assumes anyone not voting supports forming a collective bargaining unit. It drastically changes a basic principle that a majority of workers are required to change the work status of a place of employment. But if these are the rules to form a union, one would assume those same rules would apply to dissolve one, but nothing could be further from the truth. The NMB’s power grab is so extreme – in large part – because these same rules only apply for the certification not decertification of a bargaining unit, meaning more dues for labor bosses and fewer choices for workers.

In the previous Congress, an attempt was made to undue this radical action. Both Republican and Democratic Senators supported a Congressional resolution put forward by Senator Johnny Isakson, which would have overturned the National Mediation Board’s ruling, yet Big Labor had enough support in the U.S. Senate to stop the effort to reverse the “payback.”

One area with regard to this issue that has received little attention is who made the administrative rule change and why? First off, the request for the rule change was made in a private letter sent to the National Mediation Board by the Transportation Trades Division of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Secondly, one Obama appointee to the NMB – Linda Puchala is the former president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and the other – Harry Hoglander was the head of a pilot’s union. Needless to say, any objectivity on their part is non-existent.

And to make matters worse, a number of cases put forward by the unions were before the NMB prior to the rule change and coincidently, they were pulled and re-submitted soon after so that the new policy was put in place.

At a time when our national economy is struggling to distance itself from the Great Recession, an agency that’s charged with minimizing work stoppages and strikes in the airline and railroad industries has advanced an activist agenda that is so extreme that the third member of the National Mediation Board wrote in a dissent that the “the proposal was completed without my input or participation, and I was excluded from any discussions regarding the timing of the proposed rule.”

But today, there is some reason for hope that common sense will prevail in matters affecting airline and railway workers. The FAA Reauthorization legislation that will be marked up in the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this Wednesday includes a provision to repeal the National Mediation Board enforced and union promoted voting rule change from last year. This revocation will ensure that a majority of a workforce must vote in favor of union representation the way they have for nearly one hundred years. The bill also directs the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Comptroller General to evaluate the NMB’s activities and programs.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica is taking the lead in addressing this matter. According to Congressional Quarterly, “Mica’s bill also would nullify a National Mediation Board rule that went into effect in June. The rule changed the way ballots are counted in union elections. The NMB supervises union negotiations for the airline and rail industries governed by the Railway Labor Act.”

In addition, Representative Phil Gingrey from Georgia has introduced H.R. 548 named the Restoring Democracy in the Workplace Act, legislation which would repeal the rule promulgated by the National Mediation Board.

These developments serve as an opportunity for the Obama Administration to demonstrate whether their words have legitimacy. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed just a few weeks ago, President Obama wrote, “Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business – burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.”

He reiterates the point in his State of the Union Address saying, “To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.”

Mr. Obama now has his chance to act. He can stand with workers and businesses, and reject the forced unionization of airline and railroad workers, which will certainly have a “chilling effect on growth and jobs.” Furthermore, in advocating for legislation reversing the NMB’s actions, the President would be standing with his predecessors from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration to the present.

The actions of the National Mediation Board place an “unnecessary burden on businesses” and the President should stand with the Congress and “fix them.”

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AZ Daily Sun--Coconino Voices: PRO Act legislation would hurt local businesses

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By: Julie Pastrik Arizona businesses and workers have had an incredibly challenging year given the economic slowdown that followed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. However, local businesses and industries across the state are resilient and on the road to a strong recovery that will mean more jobs for Arizona workers and increased economic development to strengthen our communities. That is, as long as Congress does not move forward with potentially devastating legislation that would hurt local employers and employees alike while impeding our state’s economic recovery. Unfortunately, some members of Congress seem determined to do just that by pushing through the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. As harmless as the name may sound, the PRO Act would have serious repercussions for local businesses, particularly smaller ones, while undermining long-standing rights for employees and threatening the growing gig economy that has helped provide much-needed income for so many during this time. Arizona is fortunate to have leaders like Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, who have both refrained from joining the vast majority of their Democratic colleagues in cosponsoring the PRO Act. In a slap in the face to Arizona workers, the PRO Act removes one of the most fundamental rights a worker has when it comes to voting in elections to determine whether to unionize: the secret ballot. Instead, workers could be forced to sign union authorization cards in front of other employees, their employer, or union organizers. This bill would also destroy workers’ right to privacy by allowing unions access to personal information, including their home address and personal phone number. If that doesn’t open the door to union intimidation and harassment, I don’t know what does. As if that was not bad enough, the PRO Act would create major new challenges for Arizona businesses, making it harder for them to create jobs, expand in their communities, and even keep their doors open. It would redefine what it means to be a “joint employer” under national labor law, greatly complicating existing relationships between franchisors and franchisees as well as between business owners, contractors, subcontractors, and vendors and suppliers. At the same time, it would interfere with attorney-client confidentiality and make it much more difficult for small businesses to secure a legal advice on labor issues. Particularly harmful during these times, the PRO Act would apply a failed policy from California to national labor law by using the “ABC” test to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. This makes it much harder to qualify as an independent contractor, threatening the freedom and flexibility that tens of thousands of Arizonans find in independent contracting and gig economy work. Ultimately, the PRO Act is bad public policy that only works for union leaders to inflate their falling ranks while threatening workers’ rights, undermining small businesses, and jeopardizing a growing part of our economy. This is not a good solution for Arizona, and Senators Sinema and Kelly should stay firm and not cosponsor this misguided legislation.
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