The most high-profile fights between conservatives and unions have played out in Wisconsin and other states across the country. But another one is brewing at the federal level, where Republicans are trying to change the law to make it harder for aviation and rail workers to unionize. But several Republicans have broken ranks with their party, and labor activists see them as an opportunity.
The FAA reauthorization bill winding its way through the House would re-establish old rules, which say that if a worker doesn’t vote in a unionization election, their heads will still be counted as “no” votes.
As Sam Stein and Laura Bassett have reported, union groups are fighting this provision on the Hill, but thus far anti-labor forces are prevailing. An amendment that would have stripped this provision, written by Jerry Costello (D-IL), failed by one vote in the transportation committee.
The margin was so thin because three Republicans — Tim Johnson (R-IL), Candice Miller (R-MI), and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) — voted with the Democrats on that amendment. If they and other Republicans team with Democrats, they’ll have opportunities down the line to strike the anti-union language.
“I don’t know what [Costello’s] going to do — whether he’s going to call that amendment for a vote on the floor or not,” Johnson told me. “But I thought it was good public policy. It seemed to me to make good balanced sense in light of the purpose of the bill. I wouldn’t consider a union versus management issue, I just considered it a good common sense bill.”
Added Johnson: “I think Congressman Costello, maybe Congressman Lipinski and others will have to determine whether they’ll try to move on that on the House floor or not, but if they do, I’ll support them.”
In committee, Miller, a former secretary of state, argued that unionization votes should be tallied democratically.
“It’s not pro-union, it’s not anti-union, it’s about fairness,” she insisted.
Before I came to Congress, I spent eight years as Michigan’s Secretary of State. In that job one of my prime responsibilities was to serve as my state’s chief elections officer. I’d like to think I know a little something about conducting free, open, and fair elections…Each of us who has the honor to serve in this House does so with the consent of those we serve in free elections. All we have to do is win this privilege is receive more votes than our opponent. That is the fundamental caveat of our democracy, and how we conduct elections. Why should a union election be any different?
Given the bipartisan opposition to the measure, it could feasibly be eliminated when House and Senate leaders meet to resolve the differences between their different versions of the FAA reauthorization bill. Stay tuned.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.