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Kline Op-ed in Washington Examiner: Obama's NMB has sweetheart for air, rail unions


The following op-ed was published online at the Washington Examiner on May 17, 2010

Across the country, Americans continue to express their frustration with business-as-usual in Washington where special interests secure backroom deals that run contrary to the national interest.

Voters expect their elected leaders to fight for a level playing field that enables all Americans to pursue economic opportunity and prosperity. Unfortunately, a recent decision by a board of unelected bureaucrats in the Obama administration makes it clear that some in Washington still don’t get the message.

Since 1934, the National Mediation Board (NMB) has provided federal oversight of the relationship between labor and management in the nation’s airline and railway industries – two industries critical to the strength of our economy.

The job of the NMB is to ensure the rights of workers and employers are protected fairly and equitably so these vital lines of commerce remain open. For more than 75 years, the policies overseen by the NMB were designed to reflect workers’ true preferences by respecting the will of the majority.

Union elections were straightforward: Only when a majority of all workers voted in favor of a union was it recognized as the bargaining agent for all workers. However, it seems the bureaucratic activism of the current administration knows no limit: Last week the board, now governed by a majority of Obama appointees, overturned this long-standing rule.

Rather than conducting a thoughtful and comprehensive review of this significant policy change, the NMB imposed a quick fix at the behest of organized labor. Last September, leaders at the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO requested the NMB alter its rules to increase the influence of union organizing over airline and transportation workers. After only two months of deliberations and 22 pages of bureaucratic legalese, a majority of the NMB was happy to oblige in overturning 75 years of precedent.

In an attempt to justify its action, the NMB is portraying its decision as a means of better guaranteeing the views of the workforce are adequately represented in elections. Regrettably for workers, such an argument is rendered hypocritical upon a closer reading.

The new standard only applies to those who wish to form a union; it is denied to workers voting to disband or decertify their union. If the new voting rules are indeed a more fair reflection of the will of workers, shouldn’t they be applied to all elections involving union representation?

In her dissent, NMB chairman Elizabeth Dougherty exposed the real motive behind the majority’s decision. Citing the “strategic inconsistencies” in the majority’s decision, Dougherty wrote the “rulemaking process has been a premeditated attempt to advantage certain interests over others.”

This new rule isn’t designed to protect the best interests of airline and transportation workers. Instead, it is intended to swell the ranks of union workers and the flow of union dues to labor bosses.

It is yet another example of the willingness of the Obama administration to use bureaucratic maneuvers to curry favor with a special interest constituency. The impact will be felt by consumers in the form of higher prices and by workers with fewer jobs.

The NMB decision adds to the troubling perception of the federal government’s embrace of a culture of union favoritism. Whether it is weakening disclosure rules that shed light on how unions spend workers’ dues, implementing union-favored project labor agreements, or advocating for the removal of the secret ballot from the workplace, these decisions are stacking the deck in the favor of unions and against rank-and-file workers.

Decisions made by public leaders should invite the confidence and support of the people those public leaders serve. The recent decision by the NMB fails to live up to this basic principle and guarantees continued frustration for the American people.