There was a lot of interesting discussion around my angry post about the FAA reauthorization bill screwing over unions, especially the Communication Workers of America. If you didn’t watch CWA President Larry Cohen’s rant yesterday, here it is.
Under the “compromise bill” passed by Senate Democrats, CWA would need not only 50 percent of the 9,000 passenger service workers currently working for American in order to file for an election, but 50 percent of those workers and the 2,000 laid off employees combined; many of these laid-off employees will not return to American Airlines and are difficult for union organizers to track down to sign union petitions since they no longer worker there.
In addition, the “compromise bill” would strip the rights of unionized airline or railway employees when their company merges with a nonunion company. Currently, under the Railway Labor Act, when a unionized company merges with a nonunionized company , a union election is automatically triggered to see if the workers in the new merged company want a union (as long as the previously unionized workforce represents 35 percent of the workforce).
Under the new rules, workers in a unionized company would be immediately stripped of their union rights as soon as their company merges with a nonunion company if those workers represent a minority of workers in a workplace.
Hopefully, that helps answer some questions.
I want to address a larger point though. Our valued commenter Brien Jackson brought up something well worth thinking about in the comments:
Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t this just another case of the Democrats getting screwed over by their need to be the adults in the room? I mean, I’m certainly supportive of the unions position, but if Republicans are really willing to kill re-authorization of the FAA over the provision, your hands are tied just a little bit if you actually care about good government, no?
This is at the core of the paradox Democrats face. They are by and large grownups. A functioning FAA is a very important thing. So it makes sense to compromise to keep the government functioning. But Democrats do this on every issue. Republicans know this will happen. So they take extreme positions, win major concessions, consolidate their gains, and do the same thing the next day.
Where does this stop? For those who fundamentally believe in being the grown-ups here, what is the endgame? Where do we see labor (or any number of other progressive issues) 15 years from now? Does this strategy pay off? Are we buying time until sanity returns to the Republican Party?
I’m not advocating for the shutdown of the FAA necessarily. But I am asking for people to articulate where they see labor in 2020 or 2025. Is it better to compromise constantly and be destroyed over a 20 year period or to go down fighting? Maybe the latter, after all another two decades of worker protections, limited as they might be, is better than nothing. But the end result is about the same.
What should CWA do here? I’m a bit reticent to suggest a lot of particular policy proposals, or at least to push for any one. But should a union support a politician who votes for a bill inimical to its interest? I would argue no. Should CWA put its considerable resources into promoting the individual politicians who supports its position? I know CWA effort could make a major difference in Ohio, where Sherrod Brown is a top Republican target. Same in Missouri for Claire McCaskill. And in many House races. Should the CWA contribute to the reelection campaigns of those who don’t support their agenda? I would argue probably not. Moreover, I would guess that the very real threat of this would scare some of those Democrats who voted for this bill to change their minds pretty quick.
Labor is not totally powerless here, but it does have to decide whether its strategy of supporting the Democratic Party in elections regardless of the policies of the individual politician is particularly effective. President Obama naming people to the NLRB that will uphold the laws is important. But as Cohen says in the linked video, the next Republican president will change any rules Obama makes and name horrible people to the NLRB. And whether in 2012, 2016, or 2020, a Republican president will take office. What matters more than rules and NLRB appointments to Cohen is legislation that puts protections on the books. And on this key issue, unions have been very disappointed in the administration. The votes certainly weren’t there for EFCA, but holding the line at what things were like during the Bush Administration does not seem an unreasonable expectation.