Machinists Support NMB Voting Rule Change
December 8, 2009 - International Association of Machinists and Aerospace
Workers (IAM) General Vice President Robert Roach, Jr. testified
yesterday at the National Mediation Board’s (NMB) public hearing on the
agency’s proposed change to rules governing union representation
“Every employee should be allowed to choose for themselves whether to
vote yes, no or to abstain in union elections,” said Roach. “The
government should not employ a process that assigns a viewpoint to
voters who do not cast a ballot.”
Currently, the NMB considers eligible voters who do not participate in
air and rail union representation elections, for whatever reason, to
have voted against unionization. The proposed rule change would allow
voters who actually cast a ballot to determine the outcome of the
election, as is done in every other union representation and public
election in the
“The new rule will not suddenly give unions an edge in elections, as some claim,” said Roach. “It will only take the advantage away from the carriers who are opposed to air and rail voters’ rights for the same reason people were opposed to guaranteeing voting rights for women and African Americans – they are afraid to upset the status quo and lose the advantages they enjoy at the expense of others.”
Thousands of IAM members have already submitted comments to the NMB in
favor of the rule change. The NMB is accepting comments until January 4,
|Robert Roach, Jr. joined the IAM as a ramp serviceman for TWA and a member of Local Lodge 1056 in New York. He was elected shop steward in 1976 and served as Grievance Committee Chairman from 1979-1992. He was elected District 142 General Chairman in 1992. Roach was appointed as a Transportation Department Special Representative and a Grand Lodge Representative 1994-96; IAM Vice President of Transportation June 1, 1999. Roach earned a BS degree in Labor and Management Relations at the Empire State Labor College and graduated from Cornell School of Labor..|
The Machinist Summary Of Testimony:
Under the current NMB election process, people who do not participate in
There have been more than a hundred thousand jobs lost in the airline industry in recent years, and many of them are gone forever. Yet if these furloughed employees remain on a carrier’s seniority list they are eligible to vote in NMB elections. Although
they may have found other jobs in or out of the industry and may be
disinterested in the election, if they choose not to vote or if they do
not receive voting instructions because they were sent to an old
address, the NMB counts them as voting “no”.
The current voting procedures of the Board do not even allow voters who
do not want a union to express that opinion. If somebody marks “no” on
their ballot to indicate they oppose unionization, their ballot is
voided and their vote not formally counted. We should not have a process
that discourages voters from expressing their true intent while at the
same time assigning a viewpoint to voters who do not cast a ballot. That
is not a democratic system. Every voice should be heard and counted.
Every employee should be allowed to choose for him or her self whether
to vote yes, no or to abstain. And our government should respect that
In a free and democratic society people have the right to form and
express their own opinions, including the right not to express any
opinion. The process of voting under the RLA needs to be changed to
ensure the voice of everyone who wishes to convey their viewpoint is
heard and fairly counted. As has happened every time the government
tried to change the voting process to make it fair, there are people
Yet, opposing the fair voting rights of air and rail workers is wrong.
The people and organizations who wish to allow the government to
continue imposing a viewpoint on non participatory voters are wrong.
This unfairness has gone on for 75 years, but now is the time for the
government to correct it.
The carriers and their representatives are opposed to air and rail
voters’ rights for the same reason people were opposed to voting rights
for women and African Americans – they are afraid to upset the status
quo and lose the advantages they enjoy at the expense of others.
Airlines have enjoyed an advantage in union organizing campaigns for
decades. The new rule will not suddenly give unions an edge in
elections, as some claim. It will only take the advantage away from the
carriers – leveling the playing field to ensure that every voice is
heard. It will simply allow workers who participate in an election to
vote for a union or vote against a union for the first time.
Ironically, many of the same people who are opposing this proposal were
elected to a place on their company’s Board of Directors utilizing the
same process the NMB is advocating those who choose to abstain from
voting are not counted. Air and rail employees deserve the same fair
process as their corporate leadership.
The IAM was founded as a rail union in 1888 – long before the passage of
the RLA. The rail industry was largely unionized when the RLA was
crafted. The Act was designed around the concept of cooperation between
labor and management. The NMB representation process was not developed
to decide whether a union would represent workers at a carrier, but
which union would represent them. At a time when wildcat rail strikes
endangered interstate commerce, railroads sought the stability that
unions and collective bargaining agreements provided. Even before the
Act railroads routinely voluntarily recognized unions. Things have
Airlines are now covered by the Act, and the airline industry is
strongly opposed to unionization. The common purpose that existed
between labor and management in 1926 is no longer present. Carriers
today mount massive anti‐union
campaigns and voter suppression drives. Yet the Act was designed in such
a way that the carrier was not intended to be a party to the
representation dispute; carriers were to remain neutral. Today, with the
carriers no longer a neutral party in the election process, the current
system is rigged against representation and needs to be corrected. I
have some examples to demonstrate the unfairness of the current system.
In a 2001 representation election for 110 Pan Am mechanic and related
employees (R6891), 100% of the employees who voted chose unionization.
But since only 54 workers cast votes, 5 less than the mandated NMB
minimum, the 54 employees who voiced their opinion were denied
Fleet service employees at American Trans Air faced a similar result in
July, 2000 (R6757). With 224 employees eligible to vote, 106 (or 47%)
cast a ballot. In spite of every employee who participated wanting IAM
representation, their wishes were ignored because seven (7) of their
coworkers chose not to take part in the election.
Earlier this year the outdated NMB rules ignored another group of
employees’ desire to unionize because only 50% of the employees
participated, instead of the required 50%+1. Half of the 34 eligible
helicopter mechanics at The Center for Emergency Medicine (R7208) voted
to join the Machinists Union. The other half, for whatever reason, did
not participate in the election. Because only 17 employees voted, not
18,the NMB dismissed their case. A process where a group of employees’
desire to join a union can be hijacked because a single person refrained
from voting is unfair.
Carriers are claiming the NMB’s proposed rule would lead to industry
instability by increasing the likelihood of a strike without majority
membership support. This position is both irrelevant and illogical.
Under the RLA, strikes can only occur after an exhaustive NMB‐controlled
process. Because the NMB controls when the parties may seek self help,
strikes are no more likely to occur because the
In fact, the opposite is true. Individual unions
set their own requirements and procedures for authorizing a strike. In
recognition of the need for strong membership support before a strike is
called, the Machinist Union constitution requires approval from 2/3rds
of the voting membership before a strike can be authorized.
Other organizations have similarly stringent requirements, showing the
responsible way unions seek input and guidance from their membership
before undertaking a strike. If a
The question is not whether the current and proposed voting processes
favor unions or carriers; unions and carriers do not vote in
representation elections. The only question for the NMB to consider is
which process is the most fair to the working people involved and
impacted by the election.
The NMB should reject a process in which the government imposes a
viewpoint on its citizens. It should support a process where each person
has the opportunity to choose for themselves if they want to vote “yes”
or vote “no”, and those who abstain from voting for whatever reason do
not influence the outcome of the election.
If our government had not modified its election rules, 2/3rds of today’s
National Mediation Board and the current President of the
We, the transportation workers of
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