Hard on the heels of the Air Transport Association’s second lawsuit challenging last year’s decision to overturn 70 years of labour law, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched an investigation into the change. The investigation comes a week after the committee’s decision to investigate similar partisan actions involving the National Labour Relations Board and the Boeing Co.
Delta Airlines hailed the planned investigation of the decision which allows a minority to determine union representation. It said it shares the committee’s concern about evidence “tending to show that this change in the rule was the result of a pre-determined effort to advance a partisan policy agenda”. Indeed, the National Mediation Board previously rejected an earlier Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) request for the rule change after the union failed to win a representation vote in the immediate post-merger period in 2008.
ATA’s suit suggests the same thing but added it violated established practices for rule changes. The organisation also complained that while it eased the ability of unions to win representation elections, it did nothing to change the rules on decertifying a union, a growing issue. Regionals, too, have been complaining the change would have been much fairer had it changed both ends of the representation process not just the front end for representation.
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"This investigation is an important victory for Delta people because it will finally allow the facts to speak for themselves," said Delta. "Unfortunately, this is not the only recent occasion when a federal labour agency has attempted an unprecedented shift in labour policy at the behest of unions. "
Unions have targetted Delta, historically non-union except for the Air Line Pilots Association, after its merger with Northwest. Delta flight attendants were not represented by a union and Northwest flight attendants were represented by the AFA. The AFA ultimately lost the representation election because it could not obtain a majority vote.
Now, the AFA and the International Association of Machinists have been active. Delta said that the two unions, along with two members of the National Mediation Board made a coordinated effort to influence the outcome of Delta’s union elections by changing the voting process. Indeed, Delta alleged that the elections for the flight attendants and ground employees were delayed until the rule change. Even so, Delta noted that both lost their elections with a 94% participation for flight attendants and 80% for ground employees. In addition, two other groups voted "no" to union representation.
The investigation was launched by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Oversight Subcommittee on Labour Policy Chairman Dennis Ross. In a letter to National Mediation Board (NMB) Chairman Harry Hoglander sent 17-May-2011, Mr Issa and Mr Ross said "the chain of events suggests that a key decision was purposefully delayed until pro-union board members could be in place to vote for a reversal of the majority rule".
They questioned the NMB’s role in the change given its original mandate “to keep our nation's airlines and railroads functioning by acting as a fair third party in business-labor relations", said Mr Issa. "That trust, however, is not a free ticket to conduct a political end run around due process."
The Committee's letter requested documents and communication between the NMB and union officials, and communication related to the NMB's election proceedings.