WASHINGTON — While labor activists continue to stage a high-stakes campaign against the budget bill from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) that would strip collective bargaining rights from that state’s public employees, union backers are feverishly working to derail what they describe as an equally troubling federal proposal with a clear route to passage.
In recent days, union officials have ramped up lobbying efforts to block or remove language in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that would make it drastically harder for rail or aviation workers to unionize.
Sponsored by House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) — a major recipient of campaign contributions from the airline industry, totaling more than $620,000 in his career — the controversial provision states if an eligible voter fails to vote for union representation, he or she will be tallied as an active vote against representation.
Such a policy, which puts an extra burden on union organizers to round up all voters, rather than a simple majority, existed up until last July, when the federal National Mediation Board, which adjudicates labor-management disputes, ruled that absent votes ought not be counted against unionization. Labor officials hailed that decision as one of their signature victories last year, and the proposal to strip it away has sparked an equally emotional reaction.
“This was the one advancement that you had seen in organizing rights and here they have launched an all-out effort in the House to go after unions again,” said Shane Larson, the legislative director for the Communications Workers of America. “Currently, this is the biggest issue federally right now in terms of organizing rights. There is nothing else that is on the table.”
Critics of expanded union rights appreciate the decision’s significance, too. The NMB’s July ruling was quickly followed by attempts to undo it, including a Congressional Review Act proposed by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) that would have called for a formal evaluation of the decision.