The Other Election Result

Unions won't take No for an answer.

The news about the overwhelming Republican midterm victories has obscured several more stunning defeats of the Left - in separate elections, flight attendants and baggage workers at Delta Airlines voted against joining a labor union.

It's fascinating to contrast news reports on the background to the election.  The Wall Street Journal reported:

The wave of elections follows an overhaul of voting rules by the NMB that makes it easier for labor to organize. Since July, unions can be formed if the majority of votes cast are in their favor, reversing a seven-decade industry practice of counting nonvotes as no votes.   [emphasis added]

The Journal reported that the Obama administration changed union election rules that had been in place for 70 years.  The New York Times put it somewhat differently:

The vote came after a major change in federal law this year making it easier for airline workers to unionize. The outcome of elections is now based solely on ballots cast during a vote, while previous rules required a majority of an entire work group to approve unionization. That effectively counted those who did not cast ballots as negative votes.   [emphasis added]

Note the difference in spin.  The Journal reported accurately that this change came entirely from within the Obama administration; the labor board changed the rules without any change in the underlying law.  The Times, in contrast, made it seem that the law itself had been changed, presumably by Congress, which is simply not so.

Back to Basics

The 70-year-old rule said that a union had to win a "yes" vote from a majority of the people in the bargaining unit.  On that basis, Delta had told employees for years just to throw away the union ballots they were given - an unused ballot, logically enough, counted as a "no."

The Obama-driven rule change turned this longstanding method on its head.  Now, a union could win with only a majority of votes cast - an employee actually had to vote "no" in order to vote against the union.  Under this new rule, a company of 100 workers would be forcibly unionized and all workers forced to pay dues if only one worker voted for the union - so long as the other 99 threw their ballots away unused.

Despite that huge change in the rules, the union lost two elections in a row.

As one would expect, the union cried "foul," claiming that management had intimidated employees.  Management claimed that they had every right to explain the rule change so that employees knew they had to actually mark their ballots "no" and submit them if they wanted to vote against unionization.

This isn't the first time the union has been reluctant to accept defeat at Delta:

Earlier this year, the NMB ordered a second unionization vote involving nearly 100 flight simulator technicians after ruling Delta management had interfered in that smaller election. In the follow-up September vote, the flight simulators again voted against joining IAM.

The union clearly has the same attitude towards democracy expressed by Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey:

A sinister slogan attributed to the AKP is that democracy is 'a bus we can ride until we reach our station.'

In other words, the unions plan to keep forcing management through the cost of having election after election until they get the result they want, knowing that, in the words of Sen. John Isakson, "The National Mediation Board has demonstrated that it will stop at nothing to unionize these employees." And of course, under the laws governing airlines, once a union is in place there is no way to ever, ever get rid of it, no matter how many "members" might want to.

Why Not Unionize?

In order for Delta employees to break even on unionization, they'd have had to receive pay increases equal to the after-tax cost of the union dues they'd be forced to pay.  This money would add to the airline's operating cost, of course.

Unfortunately for management, increased cost of wages isn't the only issue - unions tend to impose work rules that make it hard to use equipment efficiently.  Since 1990, unionized manufacturing jobs have declined by 75%, but non-union manufacturing jobs have risen over the same period by 15%.

The foreign auto plants in the American south pay almost the same wages as the Detroit Big 3, but operate much more efficiently.  American Airlines, the most heavily unionized of the major carriers, has the highest per-set-mile costs in the industry and their planes spend fewer hours in the air.  In an era when flyers are looking for economy at every level, the Delta employees realized that pushing up costs was not a smart thing to do.

This election, if sustained, is good news for the Tea Party because it means that unions will have less money to throw into the Presidential election two years from now.  It also means that Delta, at least, has a better opportunity to create jobs between now and then.

Having cheated yet again and tried to intimidate voters once more in Philadelphia, we shouldn't expect the Democrats to back off on their efforts to create more captive contributors to their campaigns by forcing union membership on unwilling workers.  There will be many more unionization battles as long as the Obama administration is prepared to bend the rules in the union's favor.

As with November's elections which the Right won resoundingly despite the best dirty-tricks efforts of the left, Delta's workers have demonstrated that unions can be defeated.  Hopefully their success will be widely reported, so that voters in union elections will recognize their own interests as thoroughly as voters in national elections understood theirs.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Business.
Reader Comments

Now if we could only see a stunning defeat of the right, who see their security as paramount to our liberty, and the good of the state and their god as the only good, pre-empting those of us who have lives to live, wealth to build and dreams which require neither their hate nor fears nor guilt.

November 30, 2010 9:15 AM
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