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Airline Unions Expect Boost From Obama

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The election of Barack Obama as president will likely mean a series of changes for the airline industry, and organized labor groups may well be the first beneficiary of the new administration.

One of Obama's early moves will likely be the appointment of a Democrat to the National Mediation Board, the agency that works to ensure management and union workers in the railroad and airline sectors get along.

Initially, "the most important thing will be the NMB appointment of someone who will treat the Railway Labor Act with a little more balance," says Duane Woerth, former president of the Air Line Pilots Association and now senior vice president of airline advertising firm Sojurn Inc. "I don't care if it's organizing drives, negotiations, or a quicker release from negotiations, there's probably no more important appointment for labor than who is on the NMB."

The three-member board historically has two members from the president's party. Obama will probably replace Read Van de Water, the current NMB chairman, who was appointed by President Bush in 2003.

Further out, Obama is expected to move ahead on an upgrade of the nation's air traffic-control system, which is supported throughout the industry. And, given his strong labor support, his election will likely further delay any move toward easing restrictions on foreign ownership of U.S. airlines.

The NMB appointment could also impact the industry's next big labor battle, the effort to unionize various groups at Delta (DAL - Get Report), which will integrate its workforce with Northwest's over the next two years following their recently completed merger.

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