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House GOP quietly pushing anti-union legislation in FAA reauthorization bill

Date: March 8, 2011

Source: Daily Kos
Author: Joan McCarter 

Imagine it's election day. You have an emergency. You or a family member falls suddenly ill or gets in an accident. You don't have time to go to the elections office to vote, so you end up not voting. But suppose your county elections division decides that since the majority of voters registered in your precinct are Republican, if you had voted, you would have voted Republican, so they go ahead and count you as a GOP vote, even though you didn't vote at all. 

In any election in the United States, that would be vote fraud and illegal. If it were done by union bosses in union organizing votes, they would be villifed by politicians, by the national media, and particularly by Republicans. But that's how it was in  union elections in the railroad and airline industries, until last year, when the National Mediation Board that oversees those elections adopted a rule change, making non-votes null. 

Which brings us to today, and an effort by the House GOP to overturn the NMB ruling, and make it harder for railway and aviation workers to organize by institutionalizing what amounts to voter fraud in their union elections. 

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." 

Last year, 13 House Republicans signed onto a letter commending the NMB, according to a fact sheet provided by labor. Three Republicans in the House Transportation Committee voted for an amendment by Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) to strip Mica's anti-union language from the bill. The Costello amendment failed by just one vote, so Republicans aren't even united in legalizing voter fraud. However, the cake seems to have been baked in the GOP House. 

Two additional House committees -- Science and Ways and Means -- have input in the final legislative language, but according to House officials, neither has jurisdictional authority to revise Mica's provision. 

"Once this comes to the floor," said one of those officials, "it will pass." 

With that in mind, union operatives have turned their sights to the Senate, where a different version of the FAA reauthorization bill passed in mid-February. Sens. Jay Rockeller (D-W.V.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are being petitioned especially heavily to strip Mica's provision when the two congressional chambers meet to merge their respective bills. 

An aide to Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he supports the new NMB rule, and that position "has not and will not change." Harkin, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, told labor leaders to "rest assured" that he would "vigorously oppose any effort to include these dangerous provisions in the FAA Reauthorization Act conference report." 

"Now that it is in the bill and it is going to conference, the dynamics have changed," acknowledged one top Democratic Senate aide. "Senator Harkin would of course vehemently say it shouldn't be in there. But the question is, will people vote down the entire bill over it?" 

This effort is just as pernicious as the more blatant, and far more publicized, union-busting of Republican governors Walker, Christie, Daniels and Kasich. It's all of a piece, and just the start, as Sen. Harkin warns. 

"I expect this is only the beginning," Harkin said. "I think we'll see a lot of amendments this year -- probably on every bill we consider -- that will chip away at the basic rights and protections that help middle class working families get by. Like Governor Walker, advocates will describe these amendments as budget savers or pro-growth, but make no mistake, those are not their real goals. The real goal is to weaken the voice of American workers, and continue to push the same, trickle-down economic theory that has led us to unprecedented levels of inequality and instability." 

Making it all the more important for Senate Democrats—and maybe even the White House, with a veto threat—to stop this one now.

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