First Big Test For Organized Labor In Obama Administration Approaching
The corporate merger of the largely unionized Northwest Airlines and non-unionized Delta Air happened 21 months ago, and soon their combined workforce must chose one path or the other. This is the first big test for the ability of workers to organize under the Obama Administration, and could be a bellwether to the future of labor in America.
Article 23 Section 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” However, you wouldn’t be able to tell this based on the state of unions in America today. Thanks to some severe union busting tactics employed by every President since Ronald Reagan, membership is down to just over 10%.
In the case of the merger that created the world’s largest airline, 17,000 unionized employees that work for Northwest need to convince a far larger non-unionized Delta workforce to either organize, or the NWA workers union will be forced to disband. The Star Tribune reports, “At Northwest, labor supporters see unions as essential to protecting seniority, fighting outsourcing of work, and regaining pay and benefits slashed by airlines bankruptcies.”
Delta has traditionally been the least unionized US airline, and there have been numerous failed attempts to organize the workers there so they would be able to collectively bargain and have an arbitration of grievances if it was needed. Delta has used higher paying positions as a tool to keep unions out, a tactic they used in February where they announces on the day of the vote to organize that all non-union employees would get a raise in the fall.
From the previous Star Tribune article, “The clear message…was that voting for a union could mean not getting a raise. The IAM [International Association of Machinists] lost that election by three votes. [Unions] argue that their contracts also have better work rules, protections against dismissal and other benefits that make up for the lower wage rates.”
Anti-union appointees, particularly under the Bush Administration severely weakened labor protection laws, which made it difficult for transportation workers to organize. This changed under the Obama Administration, so that instead of having to garner a majority of all employees to vote for a union, now it is the majority of those voting. This vote that is scheduled to take place in approximately one month is the first test of the balance between corporate and worker power under Obama, and could set the trend for the future of airline unions in the country.