This vote was on whether to begin debate on a bill that would cancel a new rule approved by the National Mediation Board, the federal body that supervises union negotiations for the airline and rail industries. The new rule changed the way ballots are counted in union elections in those industries.
Prior to the rule change, union elections in those industries were determined by a majority vote of all employees. Those who did not cast votes were counted as voting “no.” The rule the board approved would change elections so that they will be determined by the majority of votes actually cast, which will have the effect of making it easier for unions to organize. Isakson’s bill would, in essence, cancel that rule change and restore the status quo prior to the rule change.
“Let me give you an example. If an organizing unit had 10,000 employees, under the 75-year-old rule, 5,001 would have had to vote affirmatively for a union. Under the new rule, if only 4,000 turned out to vote, only 2,001 would have had to vote affirmatively to be able to unionize,” Isakson said. “The majority rule is not unfair to organizing efforts, as over two-thirds of the 1,850 reported elections since 1935 have resulted in a union. Moreover, an average of 72 percent of airline and railroad employees are represented by unions, while only 8 percent of private-sector workers are union represented.”
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, called the old rule “archaic” and suggested that it was undemocratic.
“I tried to listen to all my friend said, but let’s just keep in mind what this is all about. The resolution we have before us would keep in place outdated and undemocratic election procedures that undermine workers’ fundamental rights,” Harkin said. “Under these archaic rules, a union did not win an election if it won a majority of the votes cast. Let me repeat that. Under these archaic rules, a union did not win an election even though they may have won a majority of the votes cast.”
By a vote of 43-56, the motion to begin debating Isakson’s bill failed. Every Republican present voted to open debate on Isakson’s bill. All but three Democrats voted against opening debate on Isakson’s bill. The end result is that the Senate rejected a motion to begin debating a bill that would have canceled a rule change making it easier to organize unions in the airline and railroad industries.