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Trucking news: Trucking largely exempt from NMB ruling on union organizing

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
May 24, 2010

After decades of playing defense, Big Labor is going on offense following a recent ruling by the National Mediation Board might make it easier to organize workers in the airline and railroad industries.

By a 2-1 vote, the NMB said it would recognize a union if a majority of workers who cast ballots voted for union representation. In the past, the rule required a majority of all workers—in effect, counting all those who did not cast ballots as “no” votes.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 of the largest unions in the country, called the NMB ruling an “important and essential step” toward ensuring a more democratic process for workers seeking union representation.

“For far too long, the NMB rules have provided an upper hand to corporations encouraging voter suppression, while undermining those participating in the union representation election process,” Trumka said in a statement. “The new rule issued by the NMB allows for a more fair and consistent democratic process in which a majority of workers participating can have a free and clear choice to join together in a union and gain a voice at work.”

Trumka added that the new rules “will help level the playing field for working people” in the transportation.

But transportation attorneys and other labor experts told Logistics Management that the NMB ruling would have little or no impact on the largely non-unionized trucking industry, which is covered by a different set of federal labor laws.

“This ruling will not affect employers who are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which uses a simple majority of ballots who are actually rule,” said James H. Hanson, a partner with Scopelitis, Garvin, Light & Hanson, Indianapolis, a law firm specializing in transport labor. “It should have no impact on the trucking industry.”

The difference is NLRA-covered industries, such as trucking, can be organized terminal by terminal. Under the NMB ruling, a union must organize under a nationwide classification of workers. “Trucking is under a whole different set of rules,” Hanson explained.

The rule is expected to have the most immediate impact on the rail and airline industries, most specifically at Delta Air Lines where unions are trying to organize 20,000 flight attendants. But unions already represent about two-thirds of the half-million workers in the rail and air industries.

The more important question for shippers is whether this ruling will have much effect on the trucking industry, which is about 95 percent non-union. That compares to trucking being about 90 percent unionized, mostly by the Teamsters union, in the era prior to deregulation in 1980.

The decline in Teamsters’ influence in trucking reflects the overall decline in union representation in all industries in the past half century. Today only about 7 percent of non-government workers are covered by unions; that compares to about 39 percent in the early 1950s.

The Teamsters union is in the midst of a fierce battle to try and organize FedEx package drivers, who are currently classified as owner-operators. Rival UPS, whose drivers are Teamsters, is pushing for legislation that would move FedEx drivers under the National Labor Relations Act (which also covers UPS workers).

That change would allow employees to organize locally. Currently FedEx workers fall under the Railway Labor Act, largely because when FedEx was founded in 1971 it was only an airline.

The Teamsters and AFL-CIO are working furiously behind the scenes in lobbying to get FedEx under the same set of labor laws as UPS. “We will continue to work for crucially needed improvements to our outdated labor laws so that all working men and women enjoy the freedom to pursue the American Dream,” Trumka of the AFL-CIO said.

About the Author

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John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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