U.S. labor decision would aid air, rail union efforts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. mediators authorized a landmark change in labor law on Monday effectively aimed at making it easier for unions to organize at airlines and railroads, a step expected to be challenged in court.
The National Mediation Board decision was widely expected after the Obama administration gave the three-member panel a Democratic majority last year. Unions are staunch Democratic supporters.
The change reverses decades of practice under the Railway Labor Act and currently resonates most forcefully with airlines. Big unions representing thousands of flight attendants and certain ground workers said they plan to test the measure soon at Delta Air Lines, the world's largest carrier that is mostly non-union.
Other airlines potentially affected include JetBlue Airways and AirTran Holdings Inc.
Union leaders said the change will lead to fairer elections because it will now prohibit companies from counting as 'no' votes those not casting ballots in a representation election.
"The old rules encouraged a climate of voter suppression because companies could prevent unions from forming by encouraging workers to simply sit out the election," said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.
Major passenger and cargo airlines represented by the Air Transport Association trade group said the NMB decision is substantively flawed and plan to overturn it in court.
"We continue to believe the National Mediation Board does not have legal authority to implement this rule, one that undoubtedly will lead to more labor discord," the ATA said in a statement.
Airlines expected to participate in the legal action include Delta, AirTran, United Airlines, a unit of UAL Corp, JetBlue and FedEx Corp.
Delta shares were up 4.5 percent in New York Stock Exchange trading. JetBlue shares were up 5.8 percent and AirTran shares were 2.6 percent higher at midday.
(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
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