The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, September/October 2019 edition. To view other editions or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
National Mediation Board simplifies process for workers under Railway Labor Act to remove a union they oppose
At the Foundation’s urging, the NMB removed unnecessary hurdles and simplified the process for rail and airline employees to remove unpopular unions from their workplaces.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In late July the National Mediation Board (NMB) issued its final rule simplifying decertification procedures under the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The change enables workers in the airline and railway industries to more easily vote to remove a union that lacks the support of a majority of workers.
Before the decision to simplify the process, the NMB used a confusing process that required individual employees to create a fake “straw man” union to replace the incumbent union as the monopoly representative. The decertification process is particularly important because under federal law RLA unions can force workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment even where state Right to Work laws protect other employees from forced union dues.
New Straightforward Rule Vindicates Foundation Campaign for Reform
“The Foundation has long advocated this type of change in the union decertification process and we are pleased the NMB has – as we called upon it to do in comments filed earlier this year – finally made this commonsense reform,” National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens said at the time.
The NMB’s final decision provides a straightforward procedure for the decertification of a union, meaning workers who do not want union representation won’t have to jump through the hoops of creating and voting for a “straw man” union just to decertify the union that currently has monopoly bargaining power over their workplace.
The NMB’s final rulemaking notice reads: “The Board believes this change is necessary to fulfill the statutory mission of the Railway Labor Act by protecting employees’ right to complete independence in the decision to become represented, to remain represented, or to become unrepresented.”
“This change will ensure that each employee has a say in their representative and eliminate unnecessary hurdles for employees who no longer wish to be represented,” the NMB continued.
The National Right to Work Foundation has long called for these rules to be updated. Foundation attorneys participated in the formal comment period process and appeared at a public hearing to address the NMB and deliver the Foundation’s position. The final rule specifically references the Foundation’s comments, vindicating its efforts in the rulemaking process.
Board Eliminates Confusing ‘Straw Man’ Election Rules
“The National Right to Work Legal Foundation (Right to Work) stated that the proposed change is ‘long overdue,’ and the [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] is ‘needed to ensure that all employees have an equal and fair choice regarding union representation. The Board has statutory authority to adopt the proposed rules, and should do so as soon as possible,’” the NMB final rule reads.
The confusing rules previously forced individual employees to concoct a “straw man” union to replace the incumbent union as the monopoly representative. Once elected by a majority of the workers, the new “straw man” representative could disclaim collective representation, but was not legally required to do so.
“At long last the National Mediation Board is providing airline and railroad workers covered by the Railway Labor Act a straightforward way to remove unwanted union ‘representation’ through a direct decertification vote,” Semmens said.
“The previous system – in which workers had to create a ‘straw man’ union just to challenge an incumbent union – only served to stymie workers’ rights and demonstrated the historic bias of the NMB in favor of compulsory unionism,” said Semmens. “It wasn’t until the Foundation-won case of Russell v. NMB in 1983 that workers even had an established legal right to throw off their union ‘representative,’ albeit only through the unnecessarily complicated “straw man” system which is finally being replaced with a simplified process to allow workers to exercise that right.”
In addition to submitting the formal comments in May, veteran Foundation staff attorney Glenn Taubman testified in favor of the rule change at the NMB hearing in late March.