Burdensome “strawman” process made workers create fake union in order to have National Mediation Board schedule vote to remove incumbent union
Washington, DC (April 2, 2021) – The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week issued a decision rejecting a lawsuit by AFL-CIO union lawyers to overturn a National Mediation Board (NMB) rule change, which allows workers in the airline and railroad industries to petition directly for elections to remove unwanted union “representation.” The rule, which was finalized by the NMB in 2019, replaced a confusing and needlessly complex NMB process in which workers had to create and solicit support for a fake “straw man” union just to vote out the incumbent union officials.
In March 2020, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys filed a legal brief on behalf of Allegiant Airlines flight attendant Steven Stoecker defending the rule change from the AFL-CIO’s lawsuit. The brief was also filed for the Foundation itself, which has provided free legal representation to numerous workers under the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which the NMB is charged with enforcing.
Stoecker, whose employment is governed by the RLA, attempted from 2014 to 2016 to remove the Transport Workers Union (TWU) from its monopoly bargaining status in his workplace, but those attempts ultimately failed when he lost his “straw man” election.
“The National Mediation Board’s Final Rule simplifies the union selection or rejection process under the Railway Labor Act and erases nonstatutory barriers that hinder employees’ efforts to freely choose or reject a representative,” read Stoecker’s brief. “In response, the Plaintiffs, a group of labor unions that benefit from the complexities of the straw man decertification process, challenge the Final Rule and the Board’s statutory authority to establish it.”
Before the NMB issued the final rule in 2019, workers like Stoecker had to sign authorization cards designating an employee to be the “strawman” even though that employee had no intention of representing the unit. In the election that followed, the ballot options included the name of the union workers wished to decertify, the name of the straw man applicant, e.g., “John Smith,” the option for a write-in candidate and, confusingly, the option for “no union.”
Under the old guidelines, workers who voted for either the straw man or “no union” in hopes to oust union officials would unknowingly be splitting the vote opposed to unionization, as votes counted for these options were not tallied together but separately. The NMB’s new rule allows workers to vote out union representatives directly, without the cumbersome procedural hurdles.
The District Court’s ruling rejects a union argument that the RLA forbids workers from directly petitioning for a decertification vote, pointing out that the RLA “does not require employees or their representative to pretend to seek certification in order to vindicate their statutorily protected right of complete independence in the workplace,” and also that the Supreme Court “held long ago that workers covered by the Act have ‘the right to determine…whether they shall have’” a union in the workplace at all.
“The District Court was correct in striking down this union boss lawsuit, which blatantly sought to reimpose a convoluted process by which union chiefs could remain in power in a workplace even when there was clear evidence a majority of workers wanted them gone,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “However, more needs to be done to ensure the freedom of America’s railroad and airline workers.”
“For example, currently the RLA prevents workers from being protected by state Right to Work laws, which ensure union financial support is strictly voluntary,” added Mix. “That’s why, ultimately, a National Right to Work law is needed to protect railway and airline employees from being forced to pay a union boss or else be fired.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in around 250 cases nationwide per year.