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Proposed Labor Rule Could Ease Voting Union on Delta/Northwest Merger

December 8, 2009

ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's a deal between airline labor and management that's waiting to be cleared for take-off in the Delta-Northwest merger. Flight attendants at Northwest have been unionized for decades, but at Delta they aren't. A union election is on hold until a decision is made by the National Mediation Board on a new election rule which would make it easier for workers to choose to unionize.

Currently, a majority of an entire work group must vote "yes" for a union to be certified. If an employee doesn't vote, it's counted as a "no" vote. Rene Foss, communications officer for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), says a pre-merger Delta rejected union representation when less than 40 percent of its employees voted in the election. But she says the list of eligible voters had been inflated, to include retired workers and even those who were deceased.

"That dead person counted as a 'no.' This is the classic example of how it doesn't really truly reveal the will of the people. By saying a person who doesn't vote counts as a 'no' vote isn't really necessarily correct, because it's very difficult to determine what the intent of someone who doesn't vote is."

Foss says the new rules would finally permit flight attendants and railroad workers to vote for unions under the same standards found everywhere else in our system of democracy. The new rules are opposed by Delta, whose representatives say the flight attendant election should take place under the existing majority voting rules. The NMB is accepting public comments until January 4.

Some opponents of the rule have objected to what they see as two members of the three-member NMB rushing the proposed new rule through the process. But Foss says it's time for flight attendants to get a fair shake.

"We need to have a system of voting where people can exercise their right and their privilege and their voice to express how they feel about having union representation. But if they choose not to vote, and that's their right as well, not to vote, it just shouldn't count."

The proposed changes are not new to the board or to airlines. Foss says workers have sought and debated this change for years and have only been met by inaction.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN