American Airlines Stalling Unionization Vote

An American Airlines plane is seen at John F. Kennedy International Airport April 27, 2012 in New York City

Photograph by Allison Joyce/Getty Images

In the wake of Scott Walker’s successful rebuffing of a recall vote in Wisconsin, there’s been an upsurge in blog posts ruminating on the big picture question of the future of labor unions in the United States. There continues, however, to be relatively little coverage of concrete issues.

But there’s a pretty significant private sector unionization effort ongoing right now at American Airlines where the Communications Workers of America have been trying to organize the passenger service workers. Airlines and railroads operate under a somewhat separate set of labor laws from most private employers, and until recently those laws had said that if 35 percent of workers sign a union card that will trigger an up-or-down vote on the workers formally forming a collective bargaining unit. As it became clear that the CWA was likely to reach the 35 percent threshold, American started furiously lobbying to get the law changed and Republicans insisted on including a provision raising the threshold to 50 percent in last year’s FAA funding bill. But the CWA got its 35 percent before the law changed.

So now we have a dispute. The CWA’s position is that since the legislation didn’t specifically change the rules retroactively, that nothing has changed for their situation. American, naturally, takes the opposite view and says they’re now under no obligation to hold the vote. 

At any rate, I note this both as an interesting and important business/labor/politics story in its own right and also a mark of the contrast between all the progressive pundits who are notionally committed to the view that the futue of organized labor is a top-level political priority and the practical indifference to concrete issues. Is anyone boycotting American Airlines over this? It seems that the loss of a cat in the summer of 2011 prompted some boycott talk, but the union election issue doesn’t have much passion around it.