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Obstacles to Organizing Under the Railway Labor Act
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The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) presents a challenge to workers who wish to organize and collectively bargain.  Yet workers in the airline and railroad industry are subject to an entirely different set of rules and regulations for organizing.  Find out why the Railway Labor Act (RLA) makes the path for forming a union even more difficult than for workers covered by the NLRA.

 

Obstacle 1:  A Higher Threshold for Voting
The RLA requires that in order to form a union, there must be support from a majority among all eligible company employees—not just those who turnout to vote.  This requirement is a higher threshold than the NLRA—and even general U.S. election law—both of which require majority support from only those who actually vote in an election.  Imagine if in order to win the presidency, John Kerry or George W. Bush needed the votes of a majority of all eligible voters! 

Obstacle 2:  Organizing Companywide, Nationwide
In addition to the voting threshold, the RLA requires that a majority of a company’s employees at ALL company locations must vote for the union—not just those at any one location.  This requires workers to reach out across huge geographical areas, as many of them are covered by national companies.  So airline workers in Baltimore cannot decide to organize by themselves, they must also enlist the support of their coworkers in airports across the country. 
 
Obstacle 3:  RLA: Benefiting Employers, Not Employees
One example of how this law hinders organizing is that anti-union employers strive to be covered by it.  When Federal Express (FedEx) workers tried to organize in 1996, management officials aggressively and successfully lobbied Congress to retain its status as an airline so its employees would not get the chance to organize under the less-restrictive NLRA.1  It may come as no surprise that workers are organized at UPS because these workers—employed by a company that is no more an airline than FedEx is—are covered by the NLRA.  If FedEx employees now want to organize, they must mount a Herculean effort to reach out to 80,000 workers in cities from coast to coast.2  Thus the company gets the help of labor law to hinder its employees’ attempts to organize.

Citations:

1. Krause, Kristin S.  "FedEx vs. Teamsters; Teamsters Continue to Organize FedEx Despite Obstacles."  The Journal of Commerce: Traffic World.  June 23, 1997.  Pg. 26.  
2. Ibid.
 
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