The vote last week that merged the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) has caused one former union critic, Jon Healey, to rethink his support of the GOP’s anti-union talking points with respect to union certification votes. From his piece in the Los Angeles Times:
The overwhelming vote by union members to merge the two top actors’ guilds made me think I was wrong to side with the GOP on the issue of railway and airline unions.
Healey is referring to the National Mediation Board’s reinterpretation of federal laws concerning federal railroad and aviation workers:
The law states that a majority of any craft or class of workers has the right to form a union, and the board had long considered “majority” to mean more than half of the workers eligible to vote on the issue. In 2010, however, the board — controlled by two members appointed by President Obama — said that “majority” meant more than half of the workers who actually cast ballots.
The turnout at the SAG–AFTRA merger caused Healey to realize what so many Americans are already painfully aware of: Republicans have brazenly opposed necessary rules changes in the interest anti-unionism and corporate donors. SAG–AFTRA, although supported by a vast majority of those voting, would not have happened under the old guidelines.
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists disclosed that more than 80% of the ballots cast by each group’s members favored the merger. The proposal was important enough to prompt 53% of SAG’s members and 52% of AFTRA’s to cast ballots. That’s a huge turnout — roughly twice what these unions get for a strike authorization vote.
The merger is a very big deal, and the heavy turnout and the lopsided vote make abundantly clear that a majority of both unions want to make the leap. But the tally in favor falls short of a majority as the National Mediation Board used to define it. Considering the percentage of ballots returned, nearly 100% approval would have been required — regardless of how high the turnout was in comparison to previous elections.
The absurdity of the pre-Obama reading of this law, making a non vote a “no” vote, is evident. The previous NMB rule was truly egregious and ran counter to every mainstream voting system. Consider as well that the NMB often presumes a bargaining unit to be nationwide. The combination of these two rules created an enormous hurdle to organizing. In this case, the merger would not have taken place despite 80 percent of the voting members wanting to merge.