ATLANTA ( TheStreet) -- The National Mediation Board is moving to make it easier for unions to organize, even as Delta ( DAL) faces the most critical union elections in its history. In a notice of proposed rulemaking that will be posted on Monday, the NMB will suggest a shift in voting in union elections, so that unions need only win a majority of the votes cast to win an election. Presently, unions must win a majority of all those eligible to vote. Labor has been seeking the change for decades. It now appears possible because Democrats control Congress as well as the White House. Two of the three NMB members must come from the sitting president's party. For Delta, which has been largely union-free for decades, the timing could prove unfortunate. A 2008 merger with heavily unionized Northwest means that two major airline unions are seeking elections that will determine whether tens of thousands of Delta employees have representation. Whatever is happening at the NMB, it should not slow down the Delta elections, the airline said Friday. "Regardless of what happens with the rule change proposal, there are pending Delta applications being delayed," said spokeswoman Gina Laughlin. "There's no reason for that delay. The applications should continue under the rules that existed at the time they were filed." Laughlin said Delta workers want the matter resolved. Currently, the airline can have two people "doing identical jobs, but with different pay rates, different benefits and different work rules," she said. Until representation issues are resolved, the rules cannot be equalized.
Union elections following an airline merger require the NMB to first declare that the airline has achieved "single carrier" status for each work group. The Association of Flight Attendants filed for single carrier status July 27, while the International Association of Machinists filed on Aug. 13 for fleet service workers. On Friday, however, the IAM withdrew its application. The union said it was reacting to Delta's continued complaints that it should file simultaneously for three groups: fleet service workers, agents and office employees. "Delta has spent the last three months vigorously litigating their position that the IAM cannot submit an application for fleet service employees separately from the office and clerical and passenger service employees," said Robert Roach Jr., IAM general vice president, in a prepared statement. "But Delta and Northwest are not yet a single carrier for representation purposes in the office and clerical and (agent) classifications." Roach said the union would refile once Delta and Northwest are operating as a single transportation system for all three groups. "Based on Delta's efforts to poison the mindset of employees, none of the employees can have a fair election at this time," he said. Mike Campbell, Delta's executive vice president of human resources, responded: "The IAM's action is repugnant, and is nothing more than the continuation of a pattern of stalling resolution of union representation among our work groups." Campbell added: "The timing of the IAM's action is suspicious considering it is taking place days before the NMB publishes its proposal to change the longstanding majority voting rules."
Did the IAM withdraw its application in order to await a ruling on the NMB's move to ease the task of unionization? Spokesman Joe Tiberi said no. "This is a totally separate issue from the NMB rule change," he says. "It was prompted by Delta's filings with the NMB." Jerry Glass, a labor consultant who has worked for various airlines, said the proposed NMB rule change should not apply to Delta. "If the NMB wants to change its voting rules, it should hold hearings in the normal course of business," he says. "This means that it needs to move forward on the union's request for a representation now and not hold up the election." Glass also said the agency is overstepping if it tries to change rules that have been in place for decades. "Both Democratic and Republican appointed boards have rejected changes in the voting process on four separate occasions," he said. He added that while the proposed new rules would make it easier to choose union representation, they make no provision to allow workers to decertify or change unions. But AFA attorney Ed Gilmartin says a change in the voting procedure under the Railway Labor Act is long overdue. "Elections under RLA should be run like all other union elections, where the people who participate dictate the outcome," he said. -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .