WASHINGTON -- In a big boost to union activists, the White House on Wednesday night threatened to veto a major Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill should it include a provision that would alter the way rail or aviation workers can unionize.
In a statement of administration policy offered by the Office of Management in Budget, the White House made clear its opposition to an amendment that would revert the law to its previous language, making it so that if an eligible voter fails to vote for union representation, he or she would be tallied against representation.
“If the President is presented with a bill that would not safeguard the ability of railroad and airline workers to decide whether or not they would be represented by a union based upon a majority of the ballots cast in an election or that would degrade safe and efficient air traffic, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,” the statement reads. “The Administration wishes to address these and other concerns as FAA reauthorization legislation moves through the legislative process.”
The statement was not a veto pledge. The language simply states that the president will be advised to veto the bill should it include the controversial provision. But coming one day before the House of Representatives is set to vote on whether to remove the amendment, sponsored by House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), from bill, the statement is nevertheless significant.
Aides on the Hill and operatives close to the issue hinted on Wednesday they expected the vote to be tight, with GOP leadership not entirely sure if it had the numbers to stop Mica’s amendment from being removed.
Mica’s office has stressed, repeatedly, that he wants nothing more than to reestablish longstanding policy. While opponents have characterized the bill as “making it more difficult for airline and rail workers to unionize," the Congressman’s spokesman on the transportation committee, Justin Harclerode, disputed that notion.
“The language restores the 75-years of precedence for the election and unionization process under the Railway Labor Act, the labor law that applies to those industries,” Harclerode emailed. “During those 75 years, the NMB repeatedly refused to make these rule changes, which are the purview of the Congress. In 2009, two members of the NMB changed course and did change the process.”
That change of course, however, has been a cherished victory for the labor community -- one of the few it’s won during the Obama administration. And the prospects of reverting to a system that counted no-shows as "no" votes has compelled union officials to launch a major lobby campaign to keep the revised language in place. That campaign, in turn, seems to have resonated inside the White House as well.