Big union vote at Delta Airlines

The Wall Street Journal had a surprisingly decent piece yesterday on the efforts of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and Machinists to unionize about 50,000 workers at Delta airlines. (The company’s 12,000 pilots are already represented by the Airline Pilots Association.)

The WSJ pointed out that, taken together, the various representation elections are the largest unionization vote since 1941, when about 70,000 workers at Ford  voted overwhelmingly to join the United Auto Workers.

The article also noted prominently that the election will take place under new rules that will greatly increase the union’s chances for success. (Airline workers are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which covers most private-sector workers; the National Mediation Board, rather than the National Labor Relations Board, oversees airline representation elections.)

For about 70 years, the WSJ reports, the practice in the airline industry was to count any worker who did not vote in a union-representation election as voting against the union. In July, however, the National Mediation Board ruled that unions only need to win a majority of the votes cast, not a majority of eligible voters. In case you missed it, U.S. business interests spent much of 2007, 2008, and 2009 up in arms that pro-union reforms to private-sector labor law would be anti-democratic and deprive workers of their right to a “secret ballot” (it would not have, but the framing was effective for business interests). For 70 years, though, airline owners defended an election system for union representation that operated under rules that we would view as anti-democratic in any other realm.

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