The National Mediation Board (NMB) [official website] on Monday issued a new labor rule [text, PDF] that will make it easier for airline and railroad workers to unionize. Under the new rule, the union must only win a majority from votes cast, rather than a majority from all eligible voters. The new rule marks a departure from 76 years of practice under the Railway Labor Act, bringing airlines and railroads in line with most other companies, whose union activities are governed by the National Labor Relations Act [texts]. The rule change is expected to trigger union elections [Reuters report] at Delta Airlines and could also impact JetBlue Airways and AirTran Holdings [corporate websites]. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) [website] hailed the new rule [press release] as "more fair and more in line with democratic principles." The Air Transport Association (ATA) [website], however, plans to challenge the new rule in court [press release] on behalf of the airlines. The final rule change will take effect in 30 days after publication in the Federal Register Tuesday.
The NMB originally proposed the rule change in October after a request from the AFL-CIO. The proposal came shortly after US President Barack Obama named Linda Puchala to the three-member board, giving Democrats a 2-1 majority. Board chairman Elizabeth Dougherty issued a strongly worded dissent [text, PDF] against the rule change, accusing the board of acting out of political motivation. Airlines and railroads employ more than 500,000 workers, with approximately two-thirds of those already in unions.