Another Perspective Donald L. Foley - NBA, retired
Not to state it over-broadly, but the fate of collective bargaining for postal employees and the fate of the Postal Service itself may well depend upon the decision of the National Mediation Board concerning employees of the Federal Aviation Administration. Altering a rule of some 75 years standing, last year the Board ruled that union certification votes in the aviation and railroad industries should be by ordinary rules for counting votes in a democratic election. That is to say, the Board revised the old rules in a manner that requires a union certification election to be controlled by the votes of only those who vote, not including votes of those who choose not to vote. Under the old rules, in a union certification election for a bargaining unit of 100 employees, if 75 employees cast ballots, the remaining 25 employees who chose not to vote were all counted as ‘nay’ votes – meaning in effective that, regardless how many employees voted, the only way to achieve an affirmative result would be to register a full majority of all 100 employees in the bargaining unit. In nearly all democratic election processes, a majority is of those who vote; it does not count those who fail to exercise the right to vote. So the National Mediation Board changed the rule – a majority vote would be of those who vote.
As one might imagine, this rule – making it easier to achieve a majority in favor of union certification – ran afoul of the agenda of most Republican Congress persons. And, because of this rule by the National Mediation Board, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives brought the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a very near standstill earlier this year. The House refused to adopt the normally perfunctory funding bill for the FAA, causing the FAA to experience a circumstance not unlike the economic situation presently confronting the Postal Service. In short, the FAA did not have the money to operate all of its functions – contracted work was halted, inspections were delayed or terminated, nearly everything other than manning the control towers of our airports stopped. Finally, before Congress recessed, a very short term extension of funding the FAA was adopted – with a requirement to revisit the issue after the summer recess (stop-gap funding expires September 16).
When Congress gets back to work very soon, Postal employees would do well to pay very close attention to what happens with the FAA funding and the Federal Mediation Board rule. We ought not to simply sit on the sidelines, either.
It amazes me that so little has been said about this fight in labor or progressive media sources, though there does appear to be some appetite among some Democratic members of Congress to take on the fight – one of the few that may bear fruit for labor. Labor should get behind this issue in a big way. And I believe we would be right to fear that, at some point, President Obama will decide to exercise his unique “negotiation” skills to resolve the impasse over FAA funding. Should President Obama negotiate away the gain achieved through the National Mediation Board ruling – recognizing simple democratic voting principles – in order to appease the Republican radical right (once again) it would be a significant setback for labor. But even more important to Postal employees, it would signal to us that we cannot count on this administration to protect the collective bargaining rights of Postal employees. Where, supposedly, little is actually at stake – the FAA is not all that big a government agency, and no presently protected union employees’ jobs are threatened – one might easily see Obama cause the National Mediation Board ruling to be reversed to achieve ordinary financing of the FAA operations.
However, such a move by Obama – unfortunately typical appeasement of the radical right – would also signal that he will have no stomach for the support necessary to save the collective bargaining rights of Postal unions in the struggle to save the Postal Service. The stakes for the economy in the battle to save the Postal Service from itself and from Republican radicalism are so high that, I’m afraid, they will sway Obama in exactly the wrong direction. If Obama cannot muster the intestinal fortitude to protect future union recognition votes in the aviation and railroad industries, he will fold like a house of cards when confronted with the need to protect the Unions while preserving the Postal Service. My deepest hope is that Obama never becomes involved “resolving” this fight; my deepest fear is that he will.
While we wage our campaign to convince Congress to save the Postal Service and to save our jobs, we should also take the time to convince Congress to save the National Mediation Board ruling in favor of democratic union certification elections. Or ignore it at our peril.